I am going to ask you to consider the message that we heard from the angels on Christmas Eve… “Do not be afraid…” Perhaps it is not the first thing we think of when we think of Christmas and the great celebration. It has been my experience that as soon as we sit there in the midst of a stack of gifts and a pile of wrapping paper, we begin to think if not to operate as if Christmas is finally over and we can start getting back to some form of normalcy. After all we have been dealing with all this since the first of November haven’t we? Too often, we are ready to put our Christmas away the tree and the decorations. We fail to consider the other side of Christmas.
I read somewhere recently that 30 years ago that school age children had certain fears: (1) animals, (2) being in a dark room, (3) high places, (4) strangers, and (5) loud noises. Do you know what children these days fear? (1) divorce, (2) nuclear war, (3) cancer, (4) pollution and (5) being mugged. So think in this moment we need to ask ourselves, “What do we fear? What do we fear knowing that we are on the other side of Christmas?” we would move heaven and earth to help our children to feel safe and secure. We would work our fingers to the bone to make sure that we give them a good place to live and food to eat and to try and remove anything that might make them afraid.
This thinking brings us to Joseph of Nazareth. He has had to move through lots, especially if it were to be found out that he wasn’t the father of Mary’s baby. He was afraid of what people in the community were already thinking, seeing Mary with child before they came together. It was too much. He had decided to quietly end the betrothal stage of their marriage. Then God stepped in through Joseph’s dreams and encouraged him to have faith… to trust in what was happening because the child to be born was going to need him and his faith. Joseph listen to the news of his dream, changed his mind and remained faithful to his vows and to Mary. In being faithful, Joseph in his own way helped God to bring about the birth of Christ in the way that honoured what had been spoken of so long ago.
The magi who came seeking Jesus and who had heralded the news to Herod the Great that the real king of the Jews had been born and in Bethlehem. The magi were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and tell him more. They changed the path of their journey and so protected the child they had found and his parents from what was to happen next.
In the days right after Jesus’ birth Joseph had another dream, that he was to take the child and his mother and go hastily to Egypt, to a place of safety so that they could wait out what was to come next. Joseph was obedient to what he heard in his dream and so Jesus was protected against the jealousy and rage of Herod. Some might ask about the children of Bethlehem who had to face the rage, why were they protected. It is a good and reasonable question and one that is hard to find an answer to; or at least answer that is not trite. Of this I am certain, it is why Jesus came. And those children have not been taken from God though their lives were ended in a blaze of fear and hatred of one man who thought he was the rightful king and that no one was going to usurp his power and throne.
After Herod’s death Joseph was commanded to bring the child home to Israel. The wait must not have been too long for Jesus was still only a little boy. Joseph was warned not to go back to Bethlehem and so he took Mary and Joseph to Nazareth.
Now you might wonder what all of this means to you personally and to us as a church? Christmas is a season of dreams and we need to listen and be obedient to them. If one man, being obedient to what we hear from God can protect the life of his family what can God do with a Church that is doing the same thing. There are many things that we might fear as a Church – failure in particular. This moment is a signal from God that we are to stop and to listen to what he is saying to each and to all of us, that we would hear and obey him. This is life on the other side of Christmas! When we stop to consider that our lives are not that different from the life of Jesus, that God desires to fulfill both his will and his promises in us, that we are in his care and keeping to make that happen, isn’t that good news? We need to recognize that we and others are going to resist some times what God calls on us to do. Like Joseph we have to learn to listen and then to change and then to obey.
We also need to recognize that our Canadian society is fearful of what Christ (and his Church) are going to subvert the order of their lives, taking away their power and their order – that the Church is going to upset the world in favour of a better order – God’s order. Yet we through our Christmas faith continue to believe that God has the ability to reign in a world where the dominance of the proud and the powerful seems apparently unshakable. We trust that what has been spoken by God has and is being fulfilled and that what has been promised is being made reality both in us and through us in the world. Here on the other side of Christmas, we can not only dream the dreams we can hear and respond to God that the world of Christmas would be fulfilled and finished, in God’s way, in God’s time. And that is something worth celebrating.