December 29, 2013

Matthew 2:13-23

“Jesus and Harry Potter”

Sometimes I have a hard time keeping the stories straight… First there is Luke’s story, in which Mary and Joseph are from Nazareth. They travel to Bethlehem for the census, Jesus is born in a stable because there is no room in the inn, and they receive shepherds who come to visit the newborn child.

Then there’s Matthew’s story, in which Mary and Joseph are from Bethlehem. Jesus is born in his own home town, and some time after his birth magi from the East follow a star and bring gifts to the child who is to be the newborn king.

My nativity scene melds the two stories together and confuses them in my mind. So for today, since we are focusing on Matthew’s story, I need to take away the characters that come from Luke. Today, Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus are in their own house in Bethlehem. There aren’t any animals with them because they aren’t in someone else’s stable. (Remove animals.) There aren’t any shepherds either; the shepherds belong to Luke. (Remove shepherd.)

(Pick up the angel.) The angel still belongs, I think. Not the angel that made the announcement to the shepherds, but the angel who kept talking to Joseph in his dreams. First the angel told Joseph not to be afraid, to go ahead and take Mary as his wife. And the angel will appear again and again… warning, guiding, and encouraging the family through the dangers that lie ahead. (Put the angel back.)

The wise men (the magi) are from Matthew’s story. They saw a star rising in the sky, and interpreted it to mean that a child had been born who would become the king of the Jews. King Herod was frightened by this news, but he sent them on to Bethlehem, and commanded them to come back and tell him where to find the child so he also could pay him homage.

We’ll get into that story next Sunday with our celebration of the Epiphany. (Remove the wise men.) But in today’s story, the wise men have come and gone, and the holy family are left alone… except for the angel, of course. The angel of the Lord stays close beside them through it all, even as they have to suddenly leave their home and their community, and become refugees in Egypt. (Remove the house.)

Nick and I didn’t get a chance to go away after Christmas this year, but we did get a chance to relax a little bit at home. One of the things we decided to do during our break was to watch some movies, and we recorded a Harry Potter movie marathon that was playing just before Christmas especially for our holiday. On the evening of Boxing Day, when I might have been starting to prepare my sermon for today, I was instead watching the sixth movie in the series.

That’s the one where Harry Potter, Hermione, and Ron are no longer relatively safe in their school, but they’re on the run from the death-eaters and Voldemort who desperately wants to kill Harry. They’re trying to stay alive at the same time as trying to find these things called Horcruxes so that they can destroy the Dark Lord.

Along the way, Harry has dreams also… horrible nightmares that scare him terribly and sometimes provide clues that they can figure out and follow in order to stay safe and accomplish their purpose. They travel from one desolate place to another, set up their tent, surround themselves with protection spells, and try to figure out how to defeat Lord Voldemort. As much as their own safety depends on their success, they also know that the peace and security of the whole magical world depends on them as well.

I don’t know if Joseph and Mary realized the importance of their success in keeping their child safe from the jealous king who wanted to kill him. Of course they would have desperately wanted to protect their son, just like every parent in Bethlehem, but did they understand what the angel meant when he told Joseph that the child would save his people from their sins? Did they understand what the angel meant when he said that the child would be named “Emmanuel” – God is with us?

Although the child Jesus did not yet exhibit any miraculous powers, it is very clear that God is present with the family on their difficult journey. First, there is the angel’s warning that they should flee to Egypt. When Herod finally dies, another angel appears in a dream to Joseph and tells him that it is safe to return to Israel. And finally, with one final dream, they are redirected to the town of Nazareth in Galilee, because the new king ruling over Judea is Herod’s son Archelaus, and he’s just as violent and treacherous as his father.

Born into a very dangerous and violent world, the child who is destined to become the King of the Jews and of all the world, is protected… hidden away in a remote area, one in which he will pass the next few decades before reappearing definitively on the public scene. The district of Galilee is God’s provision of a place and time of interlude, preparation, and shelter for the child Jesus… until he grows to adulthood and his unfolding life as God’s Messiah.

Although Mary and Joseph and little Jesus are not surrounded by the warmth of the stable and the animals, and the various visitors have come and gone leaving the family to manage on their own, they are nonetheless guarded by the presence of God through the guidance of God’s angels. Looking back, some years later, I can imagine those parents recounting the gracious deeds of the Lord in their lives, just as we counted our blessings this morning.

But I’m thinking about Harry Potter again, and the way he was not content just to stay out of harm’s way. If that was all he wanted to do, it wouldn’t have been that hard. But Harry didn’t just need to avoid getting killed, he actually had a mission to accomplish – to find the horcruxes and defeat the Dark Lord. And so he and his friends kept putting themselves back in the midst of the danger… sneaking into the Ministry of Magic to look for a locket, going back to the village where Harry was born just to look for more clues, and risking capture over and over in order to complete their mission.

When Jesus grew up, he also would emerge from his quiet life to do what God was calling him to do. He also would put himself in harm’s way over and over… by healing and helping the poor (even on the Sabbath day), by crossing boundaries and touching and befriending lepers, women, and foreigners, by proclaiming the Kingdom of God instead of the kingdom of Caesar or any other human ruler, and by claiming an authority directly from God to heal, and forgive, and bless.

And just as Jesus began his life as a refugee on the run, in his adult ministry he became a wandering person once again… depending on the hospitality of strangers in order to have somewhere to lay his head. Once again, God was with him, and in him, and around him… guiding him along the way and giving him the courage to keep on putting himself in harm’s way even when it led to his arrest, and crucifixion, and death.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a nice quiet Christmas including cozy new socks, a turkey dinner and leftovers as well, and time to snuggle on the couch and watch Harry Potter movies. It has been good, and restful, and safe. And it makes me wonder about what lies ahead in the New Year… for me, for you, and for St. Andrew’s and our mission here in Saskatoon.

We may want to pause and count our blessings… a wonderful church community including children and youth, adults and seniors, and people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and experiences… a beautiful building in which to worship and learn and serve together… talented and dedicated staff members… committed volunteers, teachers, board members, and elders… and enough resources to carry out our ministry in confidence and to share generously with others… and I could go on and on. God has provided for us so abundantly, and on this final Sunday of 2013, it is good for us to acknowledge that and to give thanks to God.

I, for one, am going to take a few more days to enjoy this quieter time (and to finish up a school assignment that still needs some revision) but then it will be time to jump back into the mission and ministry of St. Andrew’s – to consider how God is calling us in 2014 to proclaim and to enact the Kingdom of God in this place and time. In our worship and study, in our service and outreach, in our stewardship and mission, may the assurance of God’s presence give us the courage to risk and to sacrifice in order to do what God is calling us to do.

Remembering how Joseph and his family were guided by his dreams, may we, in 2014, be guided by the dream we share with Jesus for the Kingdom of God that will one day be complete… in which the sick are healed and the poor are raised up, the lonely are welcomed into community and the angry and bitter find peace, the greedy learn the joy of sharing and those who are wandering aimlessly find their home in God.

May our lives, and our ministry in this place, play one small part, with God’s guidance and help, in making that dream more and more of a reality in 2014.