The gift we did not want
After they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, “Herod will be looking for the child in order to kill him. So get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you to leave.” Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left during the night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod died. This was done to make what the Lord had said through the prophet come true, “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
When Herod realized that the visitors from the east had tricked him, he was furious. He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its neighbourhood who were two years old and younger—this was done in accordance with what he had learned from the visitors about the time when the star had appeared. In this way what the prophet Jeremiah had said came true:
‘A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping.
Rachel is crying for her children; she refuses to be comforted, for they are dead.”
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go back to the land of Israel, because those who tried to kill the child are dead.” So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went back to Israel. But when Joseph heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as king of Judea, he was afraid to go there. He was given more instructions in a dream, so he went to the province of Galilee and made his home in a town named Nazareth. And so what the prophets had said came true: “He will be called a Nazarene.”
God sent his messenger, a man named John, who came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. He himself was not the light; he came to tell about the light. This was the real light—the light that comes into the world and shines on everyone.
The Word was in the world, and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him. Some, however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s children. They did not become God’s children by natural means, that is, by being born as the children of a human father; God himself was their Father.
The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son.
I suppose there were lots of happy people Christmas morning in Edmonton, in Albert, in Canada and around the world. I expect there were a lot of happy children who were showered with gifts, lots and lots of gifts and they were very happy.
I know that Fiona and I probably overdo it to find something that will really make our children and grandchildren happy… something that they really wanted… I am sure there are other parents who overdo it too..
But I also suppose that there are children and possibly adults who were not that happy on Christmas because they did not receive the gift they wanted.
I suspect you know what that’s like don’t you? I can remember well being a child. Underwear for Christmas, socks for Christmas…. Yuucchhh!
For a long time, even as an adult I wanted no clothes for Christmas. Clothes were necessities to me, not luxuries. They weren’t gifts.
I have a sister-in-law who is very adamant that she only receive something personal for her, no dishes, or a tv, or anything that anybody else uses or would be useful in the house, because that’s not a gift. It has to be something personal that she alone wants and uses.
I was visiting my great-uncle one time. He took me to a drawer and opened it up. It was full of brand new, never opened pairs of socks, underwear and ties.
These were all the Christmas and birthday gifts he couldn’t use.
Did you ever get a gift you didn’t want?
I think on or the most unappreciated gifts I ever received was a Nutcracker. It was a doll, the Nutcracker character from the Nutcracker Suite. And it was an actual nutcracker as well.
You say; “harry it is the thought that counts.” You are probably right, and I wasn’t grateful, but to me it just seemed somewhat useless.
And of course there are lots of people in the world who receive no gifts at Christmas. We should probably be very grateful that we receive something at all.
I can remember my grandmother talking about Christmas when she was a girl. She wanted a doll but her parents could not afford a doll.
So for Christmas my grandmother got an orange and a couple of pieces of hard candy.
My how times have changed.
Today we can be mad at Santa or at family members for not getting the gift we want.
Have you ever had those feelings? You received a gift you didn’t want.
For your birthday or for Christmas
Well King Herod received a gift he didn’t want. The angels sang the praises of God and spoke about the gift of God.
“Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour.”
The shepherds went to see this gift.
The wise men came to see this gift, this new King and they worshiped him with their own gifts.
But Herod cursed Santa. He wanted a new chariot. A Nintendo Switch and a new wife. He had at least five wives.
He certainly didn’t want a king for Christmas. He was the king and he intended to stay king. There were to be no rivals for his kingdom.
In fact, he had killed about four of sons because he was suspicious even paranoid that they might want to be king too soon, and try to overthrow him;
which caused Caesar to remark because of Jewish restrictions about pork that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.
So Herod planned to kill this Christmas gift. He sent out soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the baby boys two years old and younger.
This is part of the Christmas story we often leave out: The killing of innocent children.
…Jesus’ family hightailing it out of town with Jesus in tow, and becoming refugees, strangers in a strange land…
But in some ways doesn’t this seem as contemporary as almost anything else in scripture.
Just think how many refugees there are in the world. People all over the world on the move, running away from war, brutal dictators, oppression because of their ethnicity or race, or religion or gender or sexual orientation.
People on the move because they are literally starving to death.
The estimates are that there are over 25 million refugees, most of them displaced, hungry, poor, and most without prospects of a happy future.
That is the world that Jesus came to and comes to… a world of people on the move looing for a safe home.
And violence… The world is a violent place. Well over a million and a half people die by violence in the world, Suicide, murder and armed conflict.
But that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violence.
More than a third of all women in the world have experienced some sort of violence, physical or sexual…
We are talking about more than a billion people.
That is the world Jesus entered and enters, a world of violence.
And then there is Herod. Herod is dictator, brutal and egotistical, above the law so to speak.
He wants someone dead then they are dead. There is no recourse, nobody to impeach him or hold him to account.
He does what he wants.
And that is true today. Some dictators may be known to you like Kim Jong-Un, Vladmir Putin, or Bashar al-Assad.
There are about 50 dictators in charge of countries and we could get into arguments about who are the worst, who flaunt the law, who are the most violent etc.
But Jesus came and comes to a world where are humans who have incredible power to dictate over others and to use their power for selfish gains and or to hurt others.
But Herod is more than a dictator, he is a symbol of Empire or the System.
We all live in a world of systems.
There are governments and economies. There are politics and politicians.
There are countries, states provinces, cities, towns, villages, counties, parishes, townships and other demographic demarcations .
There are health care systems, entertainment systems, financial systems, educational systems, infrastructure systems like transportation, utilities, housing…
There are military systems and police systems and correctional systems and legal systems.
There are food systems and clothing systems and marketing systems.
And all of these systems are somewhat interrelated and the interrelated System itself can act as an evil Empire that funnels the wealth towards a few powerful elite, that restricts health care to a few, that limits education to the wealthy, that keep workers pay low, that keeps the status quo with violence, that props up a huge military and arms industry to make more wealth for the wealthy…that practices systemic racism or discrimination….
Etc,…. Etc… etc…
And no country including our own is immune from the dangers of evil empire where there is not equality and the rich and powerful basically take way more than their fair share.
And that is the world that Jesus was born into, and the world in which we live today…
But this is precisely why God gave us this gift. God sent us a gift because there is evil in the world.
God didn’t send Jesus so there would be in the 21st century in western society a tradition of Christmas wherein we spend thousands of dollars on ourselves giving each other gifts….
God sent the gift of Jesus to show us another way to be in this world.
Jesus sent us the gift of Jesus to identify with the poor and the vulnerable and the victims of this world, by making Jesus one of the poor and vulnerable.
God sent the gift of Jesus to show us that God is on the side of the outcast, and the losers and the victims and the poor and the hungry.
God sent the gift of Jesus to show us there is an answer to violence. It is non-violence and peace.
God sent us the gift of Jesus to show us that there is another way to be in this world than to use your power to dominate others…
It is use you power to serve others.
God sent us the gift of Jesus to show us that there is an answer to the systems of this world..
And that is the truth that every life matters and everyone should have a voice and a job and education and health care and a vote and transportation and freedom to worship.
God sent Jesus to show us that Herods do not have the last word. They will die.
But the universal Christ who is universal love will always be with us, and long after the current dictators die love will still be the most important thing in this world.
People know that. You know that.
So Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Egypt and after a time Herod died.
And the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph to go back to Israel.
The angel says: Get up, and take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel. Those who were trying to kill the child are dead
It is time to get up. It is a new year. It is time for us the church to leave Egypt and go to the promised land. The land of plenty where everyone has food and education and health care and employment.
The Promised land of peace where the wolf and the lamb lie down together and a little child shall lead them.
The land where the foreigner and stranger are welcomed and the land where those who are in exile even in our own country, like criminals and prisoners and aboriginals and single mothers, or poor elderly or minority groups, or gays or lesbians or the mentally challenged…
…are loved and included and given a safe place.
And the way we get to this promised land is not by moving.
Not by getting on a bus or a plane or a train.
Not by riding in a car or on a donkey…
But by our actions that are like Christ’s…
…who came and was born into this world not to condemn it but to save it.
Here’s the beauty of the gift of Jesus. It is love and it is eternal. It cannot be killed or done away with.
No matter if you don’t want the gift or reject it or even kill it, the gift will always be there.
It is an eternal gift of love and forgiveness and whenever a human accepts it, it may be today or tomorrow or a thousand years, the connection to love will be re-established.
That is the connection to the divine.
Through this gift of Jesus people will come to know that God is love and God loves each and every one of us.
Through this gift there is forgiveness for the wrong that humans do.
Through this gift there is power to be a totally different humanity that loves and cares and serves one another.
This gift of love is the answer to evil…because evil will never ever get rid of love.
The Herod story is not a nice part of Christmas, but it is true.
We often don’t want the gifts that God gives us.
And if we are totally honest there are times we don’t want the gift of Jesus.
For if we truly accepted Christ we would forgive like he forgives, we would love like he loves, we would give like he gives, we would sacrifice like he sacrifices.
There are times that we are all like Herod. Times we hurt others, exile other, put others down, cast others out, intimidate others, play with others, manipulate others, use others.
There is a little dictator lurking in all of us. Who doesn’t want to be the king or queen of one’s own life?
But sometimes it meant that we don’t want the gift of a Christ who will grow up and tell us to love one another, serve one another, forgive your enemies and pray for those who hurt you..
But God doesn’t give us what we want, but what we need.
That’s why it isn’t much use praying to win the lottery or praying that God will make life easy for us.
God doesn’t give us what we want, but what we need.
And that’s why the gift that God gives challenges us.
The gift that God gives challenges us to be more than what we are..
To get up and go back to the promised land and take Jesus into all our lives and all our words and all our thoughts and all our interactions…
To take Jesus into the systems of this world so that the
Systems of this world becomes the kingdom or system or Empire of love.
Maybe you wanted a Nintendo Switch for Christmas but what God gives is Jesus.
It is not the gift we wanted, but is the gift we need.
The minister spent an hour on the airplane next to a salesman from Toronto. The salesman wanted to talk, while the minister wanted to work on his laptop. During the conversation the salesman said, “you look like a man who needs to relax.”
The minister thought the comment was a little forward especially since they just met.
Two weeks later the minister remembered that comment when a package arrived in the mail. It was a gift. The card said “From John” it was a couple of carving knives.
The minister didn’t know who it was from until he turned the card over. On the back he read “To a man who needs sometimes to relax, from a man who found these to be helpful.”
His first thought wasn’t positive. “Now I’ll have to have a relationship with a man I don’t know. Will he expect a gift in return.” The minister threw the knives in a drawer. This wasn’t a gift he wanted or asked for.
Three years later when the minister wants to relax he takes out his woodcarving set and starts carving on a piece of wood.
It wasn’t a gift he wanted, but it was a gift he needed.
And the angel said: “Don’t be afraid. You might not want this gift, but it is the gift you need. You shall find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger…”