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Tidings of Conflict and Joy 

Christmas Eve 7.30 PM, Common Lectionary Year A

Matthew 1:18-2:15

©2013 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

For most of us who sort of know the story of this night, this holy night of Jesus’ birth, we have a pageant running in our head. It would involve Mary and Joseph,   probably a donkey, the town of Bethlehem, a hotel that’s all booked up, with a stable at the back. Some angels, some shepherds and sheep. Lots of “Glorias” sung into a suddenly bright sky.

Pour la plupart d’entre nous qui connaissons plus ou moins l’histoire de cette nuit de la naissance de Jésus nous avons un spectacle en tête. Il comprendrait, Marie et Joseph, probablement un âne, la ville de Bethléhem Un hôtel qui affiche complet, avec une étable à l’arrière. Des anges, des bergers et des moutons. Plein de ‘’Glorias’’ chantés dans un ciel brusquement clair.

And for that nice pageant, we have only Luke to thank. If we were to rely on Matthew for details for our pageant, we don’t have much to go on at all. He says absolutely nothing about the birth, focussing most of his attention, not on Mary, but on Joseph.

This is why Matthew never usually gets invited to the Christmas Eve service, because he has so little to say about this holy night. But, what he does say is worth pondering, especially tonight, and especially in our world, where so much of it looks like it needs to start over again. Matthew’s story, even though it doesn’t have hosts of angels, sheep, and stables, is one of those great tales, with plot, humour, conflict and building suspense that keeps us hanging on to the closing credits. Even more, it’s one of those tales that works on two levels. Like Lion, Witch Wardrobe,  a rollicking story at face value, but which is working at a deeper level to make a significant point about the meaning of life.

And that’s a perfect way to read or tell Matthew’s version of the Nativity story, because that’s exactly what he’s doing. To the child in us, he tells us that Mary had a baby boy, and called him Jesus. But for those of us who want to know why, well his point is huge!   Matthew’s claim is that Jesus’ birth into the world is like a whole new creation.  La naissance de Jésus dans ce monde est comme une toute nouvelle création. Dieu reprend tout depuis le début, avec un petit enfant, God is starting out all over again, with a small child, who, by the way he lives the Dream of God, sets out to remake the world – s’en va pour refaire le monde.

Now Matthew is clever, to make his point, he braids two stories together: the story of Jesus’ birth, and the much older story, found in Genesis and Exodus. To the folk of Matthew’s day, that old story was as familiar as…. well as the Christmas story is today! To us, we are not so familiar with the old story, so to try to show you how Matthew’s great plot works, I’ve asked Lisa and Dan to help me out. I’m going to tell Matthew’s story, and they get to interrupt with the older story, so that you can hear how both stories feed off each other to make Matthew’s point.

Here goes:  Matthew says, The birth of Jesus happened like this   And the writer of Genesis says:  The creation of the world happened like this       There was a bit of chaos in the household of Joseph: He was supposed to be in love, getting married, only Mary was in the family way, and he wasn’t the involved party…. which is another way of saying  The earth was formless and void, chaotic; and a darkness  covered the face of the deep.        But then in the dark of the night,  in the midst of Joseph’s confusion, Joseph had a dream, in which an angel of God came to him and told him, “Joseph, son of David, don’t fret about her baby,  it was the Spirit’s doing. This is from God, and therefore good.” And the Spirit of God hovered, brooded over the chaos, and there was light. And God saw that it was good.”           Now, there are children present, so this is not the time for the birds and the bees talk, but let’s notice what Matthew did here. All through Scripture, God has a habit it seems of sending the Holy Spirit into God’s world to make sense of chaos,  to shed light into darkness, and to create new life where none existed before. The Spirit hovering over creation, the Dove finding an olive branch after the flood, the birth of Isaac to Sarah and Abraham when both were too old to have children, Hannah’s baby Samuel….. Indeed! Dans cette histoire de Joseph, Marie et le Saint Esprit, Mathieu re-raconte l’histoire de la première création de Dieu, faisant sortir la vie et l’ordre et la beauté et l’émerveillement à partir des ténèbres et du chaos. In his story of Joseph, Mary, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, Matthew is retelling the story of God’s first creation, bringing life and order and beauty and wonder out of darkness and chaos.

But he’s not done yet. No sooner is the baby Jesus born, than Matthew’s story goes straight to trouble. So does ours.  After Creation, came the garden, then Cain and Abel, then the flood, then the famine that sent Abraham’s children into slavery in Egypt, where they were ruled by a terrifying despotic king, Pharaoh. In Matthew’s story the Magi, wise ones, journey long and far, across a wilderness to follow a star  -Creation’s light in darkness! (thank you),  to find this new creation, Jesus.

Now, these Magi travel to Jerusalem, and set the cat among the pigeons by asking the King, Herod “Where is the new king of the Jews to be found?” Herod, understandably is a bit steamed under the crown, and he starts to plot all sorts of mayhem  (please cover your children’s ears a moment) including infanticide, just to hold on to his twisted, fear-filled form of power. ….. Really, you two, still nothing?  Okay then.  When Israel was in Egypt’s land…. oppressed so hard they could not stand….  Funny! Go on.  Pharaoh’s oppression was so great that God raised Moses, first protecting him from the infanticide Pharaoh had ordered of all Israel’s children,  then sending him down to Pharaoh, to “Let my people go.”

Wow!  You see how Matthew did that?!  A king plotting infanticide to protect his power! No wonder this part of the story never makes it into the children’s pageant.

Matthew’s Jesus is not just some tiny baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, but is God’s new creation,  whose role will be like Moses, to rescue all God’s people from all that is oppressive. Matthew’s infant Jesus, born to Mary, will be king in a way that the Herods, Pharaohs, Fuhrers, autocrats and impersonal government machines just couldn’t and wouldn’t  and will not fathom.

These are Matthew’s tidings of Conflict and Joy.  Voici l’annonce de Mathieu sur le conflit et la joie.  Dans la naissance de cet enfant de Dieu, fils de Marie,  Dieu crée un nouveau monde,  Où la lumière et l’espoir, et la nouveauté,  et la paix à travers la justice  sont envoyés dans les endroits où  le désespoir et les ténèbres menacent de tout contrôler. In the birth of this child of God, son of Mary, God creates a new world, where light and hope, and newness, and peace through justice are sent into the places where despair and darkness still threaten to rule.

May this Christ be born in us today.  Let earth receive her King.

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