Christmas 2 – Trinity Cathedral. As we begin to live into this New Year 2011 let me remind you that the new “church” year began on Advent Sunday. We are in Year A of our lectionary cycle, which determines the Scripture readings for Sunday mornings. And this is the Year of Matthew. Most of our Sunday morning Gospel readings will come from Matthew this year.
Each of the Gospel writers, as you know, has their own perspective in telling the story of Jesus. Mark was the earliest such writer and his Gospel is short and fast-paced and full of urgency. Luke was a Gentile physician and emphasizes healing and Jesus’ concern for the poor and the marginalized, including women. John’s much-later Gospel is highly structured and theologically sophisticated.
Matthew is very interested in the Jewish heritage and background of Jesus and indeed of the Christian faith itself. He traces Jesus’ genealogy from Abraham rather than from Adam as Luke did. He writes of fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the exile of the Jewish people in Babylon, and fourteen generations from the Exile to the birth of Jesus (whom he designates, early on, as the Messiah.) All this is intended to remind us that Jesus was a Jew and that the Christian faith makes no sense at all apart from its Jewish roots.
Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in our Gospel passage for today. The slaughter of innocent children by Herod the Great is not recorded in secular annals of the time, but it is perfectly consistent with the kind of thing this ruthless king regularly did, and which are recorded. He butchered members of the Sanhedrin when he first came to the throne. He once cut down some 300 officers of the court. He even killed his own wife and son. The massacre of the holy innocents was likely one among many such atrocities and barely attracted the attention of his cowed subjects.
But no good Jew reading this account in Matthew’s Gospel could possibly miss the parallel with Moses, and with the history of Israel. After all, hadn’t Moses too narrowly escaped being slaughtered among the “holy innocents” of his time by being placed in a basket of bulrushes and hidden among reeds on the bank of the river, only to be discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter? (Exodus 2) Jesus’ similar experience of nearly being killed before he really began to live starts to define him as the “new Moses,” a comparison we will see all the way through Matthew’s Gospel.
And where did Joseph take the child and his mother to escape a terrible fate? To Egypt – exactly where Moses and the children of Israel had started their long pilgrimage to freedom. When Matthew quotes the prophet Hosea (11:1) in today’s Gospel: “Out of Egypt I have called my son,” he knew that text originally referred not to Jesus, but to the people of Israel themselves – called by God out of slavery into freedom. But his point is that Jesus is reliving, in his own early life, the history of Israel – rescued from merciless tyrants, both the Jewish people and Jesus himself come forth from Egypt and begin a journey to freedom and to a new life…a new home.
[At this time of year, when most of us think about the holidays, we think about going home and being surrounded by family and friends, don’t we? Even if we aren’t able to do that physically, we remember such times in the past. The holidays are a time to feel grounded and grateful. That’s the payoff for all the craziness that often surrounds this time of year, complicated this year by the weather challenges so many of us faced.
But as we think of the people of Israel, and even Jesus himself, as “refugees” and even as “asylum seekers”, we need to remember the countless numbers of men, women and children who still find themselves in that situation today. “Refugees” are defined as “exiles who flee for their safety.” And, whether they are living in camps overseas or undergoing the difficult adjustments needed to start over again in the United States or elsewhere, the sense of comfort and security you and I enjoy must seem very far away indeed.
And yet, with amazing grace and perseverance, refugees resettled in various parts of the world do find a sense of home. They create it for themselves, with the help of open-hearted people who are willing to embrace them. You may not be aware of it, but a ministry of our church is something called Episcopal Migration Ministries and one of the real joys I experienced while working at our Church Center in New York was seeing The Episcopal Church at work with such uprooted people and seeing churches and communities all around the country extending welcome and understanding to these newcomers to the United States.
Last year, Episcopal Migration Ministries assisted 934 refugees with the support of parishes and community volunteers across the many dioceses of our church – 88 people from Africa, 249 from East Asia, 40 from Latin America and the Caribbean, 551 from the Near-East and South Asia, 6 from Europe. There may be no better time of year than this to be mindful of the gifts and potential that such refugees bring, and to be thankful that we live in a country where it’s always possible to find your way home.] (Above cited from EMM website)
The people of Israel finally did. Jesus finally did. Your ancestors and mine finally did – right here in this beautiful land…and so did those 934 others The Episcopal Church assisted this year. I’m proud to be associated with Episcopal Migration Ministries, proud that our church continues to reach out in this way and that by our tithes and offerings through this diocese and beyond, we share in this ministry in some small way. In the words of today’s Epistle: “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” (Ephesians 1)…Happy New Year!