Sermon - 30th December 2012
Scripture - Matthew 2:13-18
Rev Andy Braunston
[An audio version of this sermon is available. Please go to Spirituality > Audio and Video.]
There is a myth in our society that Christmas will be wonderful. All the build-up to the main event, the powerful Christmas music, the TV programmes full of snowy Christmas scenes, all help build up this expectation. Families get together, whether or not they want to, and seem surprised if all doesn’t go to plan. But there is an expectation that Christmas will be marvellous.
If you think about it, this is all rather odd given the events that we remember at this time of the year. An unmarried mother travelling with her fiancé to take part in a census ordered by a foreign power, the mother having to give birth in a stable, smelly shepherds being the first visitors and then rather weird pagan astrologers turn up and, following that, the dreadful events of the murder of the Holy Innocents and the flight into exile. These are not events of which dreams are made.
Dreams were shattered in Newtown, Connecticut this year with the killing of twenty children and six women. The deep shock of that community will mar lives for years to come and Christmas will never be the same again for them. We are shocked by the horror of it all just as we are still shocked by Herod’s casual brutality arising out of his insane paranoia. The fact that the massacre involved all the little boys under the age of two might indicate that it took place sometime after Jesus’ birth as would the fact that the Magi were led, by the start, to the “house” where the Holy Family were. The murder of children is always horrific.
In America, the killer’s motives aren’t clear, but we get a sense of an unbalanced young man. Herod’s motives were clearer – he was threatened and didn’t want any cult of personality to emerge around Jesus as heir apparent to his throne – a throne he owed to his Roman overlords.
These events, whenever they happen, make us question the existence of a loving God. Where is the evidence when innocents are slaughtered? Of course people now want evidence – evidence of what drove the gunman to his murderous ends, evidence of the state of the relationship with his gun-owning mother, evidence of how he managed to gain access to the school, evidence of what led him to behave like he did and evidence of why he killed himself. But even if evidence is found it won’t take away the pain, the shock, the anger and the sense of profound loss.
But as Christians we’re used to people asking us where the evidence is for God. There isn’t much really is there? God is never the instant answer to our problems, our hungers and our most profound questions. Time and time again in the Bible, God’s people have had to deal with catastrophic events, including the slaughter of innocents. The Psalms are full of questions about why God allows dreadful things to happen to His people – and they often speak of pain more than piety.
But Christmas is about this. It’s not about the snow scenes, the family gatherings, the consumerism or the myth of the perfect: it’s about, instead, the fact that God became one of us. In Jesus God became flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He came to share the pain and the insecurity of human life. He came to enter into our life and show solidarity with all who suffer, particularly those who suffer injustice and pain.
There is a mystery about unmerited suffering, but Christmas answers this with the revelation of God’s unmerited loving kindness. Our world isn’t perfect – it certainly wasn’t in Jesus time as our Gospel reading reminds us - and recent news shows us that our world isn’t perfect now. We don’t believe that God made the world to be perfect, but to be good.
Love, only love, can make the world better.