“The Good News of Great Joy cannot Be Extinguished” (December 29, 2019)

Sermon Text: Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Pastor Philip Bigelow

Are your eyes still all aglow form Christmas?  How was your Christmas celebration?  Are you still relieving Christmas dinner through leftover ham, prime rib, or whatever it is that your family likes to feast on for Christmas?  Are the newly unwrapped toys still as magical as the moment they were opened?  Are you the kind of person or family where Christmas Day marks the beginning of your Christmas celebration in the true Christmas fashion as the season in the church year lasts until the Day of Epiphany on January 6th?  Or are you and your family the type that follows the example of the stores and the Santa and sleigh bells are marked 70% off when the doors open on December 26th and you have 70% of your Christmas decorations already down and the Christmas tree is curbside?

How long did the Christmas joy last?  Did it last until it came time to build the new Lego car and you couldn’t find one Lego needed, which means tears are flowing?  Did the Christmas joy last until all of the children wanted to play with the gift that was for all of them all at the same time resulting in yelling and fighting and, “I want” and “mine”!  Did the joy last until that one subject was brought up at the family gathering that made everyone forget to breathe for a moment?  Or maybe your Christmas joy was a bit muted this year.  Maybe it was muted because this was the first Christmas with an empty chair at the family table or maybe it was your fifth, but it still feels like the first.  Maybe Christmas for you is a reminder that you don’t have the Facebook or Instagram picture-perfect family that everyone else seems to post.  Maybe it’s a time of year that is a painful reminder of what you wish you had, or of what once was.  Maybe Christmas wasn’t the picture-perfect Christmas card type-of-time for you.  But, guess what…we are going to see more things today that also aren’t picture-perfect.

Last week we had the opportunity to share the story of the birth of Christ with about 1,700 people between all of our Christmas worship services.  They heard the message of the promise made and fulfilled: The Savior is born; he is Christ the Lord.  If you were here for the Christmas Eve worship service, you saw the lights turned down a bit to create a warm and peaceful setting here in church.  Toward the end of the service the candlelight slowly spread throughout the church as we joined our voices in singing “Silent Night, Holy Night”.  In those moments it was as if you could feel the peace and serenity that is often pictured in Nativity scenes.  You have Mary looking as beautiful and as radiant as ever gazing lovingly at her newborn Child, Jesus.  On the other side of the manger is Joseph usually holding a staff in his hand and looking peacefully at it all.  And of course, the animals are standing off to the side at just the correct angles eating the hay and adding beauty to the entire scene, never mind how humble all of it is.  Everything looks and feels so peaceful that evening.

Now it is four days later and we have gathered again in God’s house and if you were making a documentary on the birth of Christ and his early years today’s lesson is the scene where the music gets really low, dark, and ominous.  Today we get a heavy, revolting dose of the reality of why Jesus came.  There isn’t much cute and cuddly that we are going to look at today like we did just four days ago.  Four days ago, we heard the eternity changing proclamation from the angel to the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11).  Today we see a scene that threatens to end that great joy like a broken toy on Christmas afternoon.  Jesus just finished unwrapping the gifts the Magi brought him and now the Magi are returning home, but they have left breadcrumbs for Herod to follow.  He was interested in this Child the Magi were bringing gifts to not to worship him but to eliminate this threat to his throne.  When Herod heard about this Child the Magi were coming to see he only saw Jesus as a threat to his power that must be eliminated.

Imagine for a moment what Mary and Joseph were going through up to this point.  Their lives were turned upside down when an angel appeared to Mary and told her she will give birth to a child that is from the Holy Spirit.  Then an angel appears to Joseph to tell him, yep that’s exactly what is going to happen.  She will give birth to the Savior so take her home to be your wife.  Then the baby is here, but it is hardly what you would expect as the Creator enters creation.  It’s not in the great city of Jerusalem which was always the Israelites’ capital city throughout their history.  It was not with kings and queens to welcome him.  There were not trumpet blasts throughout the land to announce this important birth.  Just in the sleepy shepherd town of Bethlehem, in a manger with animals nearby and shepherds to announce his birth to anyone that would listen.  Then the wisemen come and bring priceless gifts.  You wonder what Joseph and Mary’s reaction was.  What would your reaction be?  “All right, is this what it’s going to be like to raise the Son of God?  I could get used to this!”

Fresh off the goodbyes from the Magi another angel visits.  Que the low, dark music.  “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.  ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.  Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him’” (Matthew 2:13).  If there was ever a drenching wet blanket to smother the joy of that first Christmas, I don’t think it gets much worse than that.  Get up in the middle of the night, pack as quickly as you can, and take off for Egypt because Herod is trying to kill your child.  Mary and Joseph already moved to Bethlehem when they had the baby because of a government census.  Now they have to throw things together under the cover of darkness because Herod wants to kill your child that is less than two years old.

Seriously!  Could you imagine what was going through Mary and Joseph’s heads?  I wonder what the conversation was like as they walked in the moonlight past the sign along the road that said, “Egypt 100 miles”.  Don’t imagine too hard because I think you and I can relate to Mary and Joseph.  No, you haven’t had a virgin birth and angels didn’t appear to you to tell you what was going to happen and shepherds didn’t visit you after the birth of a child and Magi didn’t come to your house with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  You probably haven’t had to flee to another country because a government official wanted to execute your child.  Mary and Joseph actually aren’t told many details about fleeing to Egypt.  They are told stay there until further notice.  How long?  I don’t know?  You and I have been in situations where God has left us wondering, “Where is this going?  What’s next?  What are you up to God?  I don’t need all of the details but at least let me see the map.”  And maybe it goes much deeper and darker than that.  Maybe we don’t always have the patience of Mary to treasure up all these things in our heart and we let the good news of great joy be extinguished in our lives because we get so focused on the right here and right now and the right here and right now doesn’t look too good to us.  So, we cry out to God, “Seriously!  What are you up to God!?  What are you doing!?  And if you are going deviate from my plan a little heads up would have been nice!  God, at least have the decency to show me the plan and path before you send me on the detour to Egypt in my life.”  Oh, how short sited we are and how quickly we let the sinful nature extinguish the good news of great joy.

Mary and Joseph may have set out for Egypt in the darkness, but God doesn’t leave us in the darkness.  Here is the main point in our lesson both for Mary and Joseph and for our lives: How is God at work?  Sending Mary and Joseph to Egypt wasn’t a last-ditch effort to rescue Jesus from the murderous and hate-filled Herod.  It was God at work fulfilling his promises once again.  It was the promise given through the prophet Hosea hundreds of years earlier that Matthew quotes for us today, “And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” (Matthew 2:15).  Another promise made; another promise kept.  As soon as Jesus comes into the world Satan is working overtime to extinguish that plan and along with it the good news of great joy for all mankind.  God says not today and not ever as he is working to save you.  Nothing would get in the way of his plan to save you.  That is why Jesus came.  This is why Christmas happened.  That’s the good news of great joy and that is God at work for you.

And God wasn’t just at work in fulfilling his promises and keeping Jesus safe, but he continues to be at work for you in your life.  God’s promise to you and me is that all things work for the good of those who love him.  Maybe Mary and Joseph wondered what was going on when they had to go to Egypt even through the angel told them what was going on and we see how God was at work.  The same is true for our lives.  We know the struggles we face.  We know the hardships.  The good news of great joy cannot be extinguished because God is at work for you.  You are forgiven.  Satan cannot reverse that work of God no matter how hard he tries.  Let that joy burn brightly in your life.  Amen.