In which we consider the Holy Family’s flight from the massacre of Herod and how we as Christians interact with power and identity in a world we live in but do not belong to. Preached on January 1, 2017 at St. Peter’s Comox.
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you should seek him out? Psalm 8:4
And so Jesus was born. The angel chorus had proclaimed him. The shepherds had seen him. Mary’s heart pondered things. Then Joseph had a dream.
Now I imagine having seen your wife give birth to a divinely conceived son in a manger, having played host to overly excited and smelly shepherd’s that you’re going to be exhausted, tired, done. I certainly know that after the Christmas festivities here I needed a nap. I can’t imagine being told get up, take your newborn babe and post-labour wife and get them to a city far away where they speak another language and worship pagan gods. Go NOW. But that was Joseph’s dream and that is what happened they fled and became refugees in Egypt. Away from everything familiar on the run from a violent tyrant.
For Herod feared Jesus. Jesus was the Messiah. The foretold King of the Jews. This was a problem because Herod was pretty convinced he was the King of the Jews thank you very much. Sometimes our relationship with power is messy. Sometimes when we have authority, or responsibility, or ability we let it define us. We come to think about who we are in relationship to the task, the title, the potential that comes from “our” power. We fear losing it because our sense of who we are is tied directly to the power we hold and so to lose it is to lose our very selves. It’s no small thing when we say “For thine is the power, and the honour, and the glory.” All power is God’s and what power or authority or potential that we have is entrusted to us by Him for a time. And so it is best to offer it back up to Him, to surrender it to His glory. But of course we don’t like doing that, it feels kind of like a death to surrender our pride, our plans, our convictions, our “selves”. Herod acted out of that fear and desire to be in control. It was horrible and it was fruitless. It always will be. Because try as we might to frustrate God’s plans and wrestle power from Him, He reigns.
So Herod killed every young boy in the region to secure his power and authority, to stomp out the prophecy of the prophets-and in so doing he fulfilled them. For it was said that the Messiah would come out of Egypt and so Jesus was made to be out of Egypt because he fled Herod. For it was said that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene and he was made so by Joseph’s caution about Herod’s son and successor. In seeking to frustrate the will of God Herod fulfilled it. Don’t hold on to your power as something to be coveted but guard it as a treasure entrusted to you by God. This does not mean to bury it but to bear fruits with it, let it be life-giving to the world from God’s Providence. For the alternative is to turn to death and destruction and despair. For that’s all there is outside of the will of God.
From the lips of children and infants You have ordained Your praise; because of Your enemies to silence the foe and the avenger(Psalm 8). It is a horrible thing, the cost of Herod’s failure to die to himself and be born anew in Christ. His zealous pursuit of his own sense of who he was caused the death of a generation. Yet even this horror proclaimed the glory of God and reminds us of what Jesus was doing. The author of our salvation was made perfect through suffering. He was distressed in our distress. That we might be made children of God. Jesus took on flesh and blood as we have. He entered into our suffering, into the screams of Rachel. He entered into the depths of our reality and took it in to Himself that no aspect of our lives might not be known by Him. Do you remember when Job is getting angry at God and he says “where do you get off judging and punishing me God, do you know what is to have flesh and blood like I do?”(Job 10:4-8) He does. And because he knows and has suffered temptation he is able to help those also who suffer.
What kind of King is this? A King who takes upon Himself the condition of his people. A King who enters into their suffering relinquishing his place of honour so that honour might be fulfilled. The reign of Herod sought through death and destruction to show his power. Our King conquered the power of Sin and Death, setting his people free from fear of tyranny. Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but powers and principalities (Ephesians 6:12). Being born anew in Christ’s birth means that we are longer defined by the things of this world. Our authority, our ability, our position, our title, our plans all are relinquished to him. We must die to ourselves that we might discover who we are. For we are made the Sons and Daughters of God. We are made heirs through hope of an everlasting inheritance. We are made holy as God himself is holy so much so that he calls the saints his brothers. Our authority does not define us, God by his authority working in us makes in us a new creation. We are defined by His power not by our own.
This is crucially important as we live in a post-modern society. We live in a culture of identity creation, where personal branding and extreme expression are the appetite of the day. When people identify themselves by their appetites, their jobs, their gender expression, their political affiliations, their sport teams, the clothes they wear and the band they love our identity is not something we choose. Our identity is something we receive. And we receive it as we are received by Him.
That is what is happening when you receive the Eucharist. You are dying to yourself and being born in him. You are relinquishing your sense of who you are and letting him make you according to his image. You are letting him conquer you, for you apart from him tends toward death and destruction and where as in Him you have and pour forth life. When you receive communion you receive the angel of his presence, you become the angel of his presence because he has life in you.
What is man that you are mindful of him, the on of man that you seek him out? Psalm 8:4