Isaiah 63:7-9; Psalm 148 ; Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 2:13-23

These sermon notes were prepared before the sermon was delivered and so do not transcribeMary on donkey with Joseph walking across a bridge the actual sermon word for word

What we have, or might expect, in the readings today is the continued unfolding of the Christmas icon; and so Matthew’s gospel takes us onwards from the manger of birth, and we move beyond the nativity into the new creation.

It is helpful to consider other viewpoints at this time and briefly we’ll look at three;

Where does our culture, and so too our cultural conditioning take us after the celebration of Christmas?
Where does the liturgy of the Church take us; and lastly where does Matthew’s gospel and the lectionary readings of the day seek to take us?

Culturally, we have distorted the icon of the nativity, and have presented a whole ‘other’ tradition that takes us away from following the process that the nativity begins for us.
Our secular world (and that includes much of us) puts a lot of effort into distracting us from the process of the nativity.

In the church calendar the 26th December is the feast of St Stephen, the feast that good king Wenceslas looked out on. And in the placing of this feast day immediately after our celebration of birth the church gives us an important insight.

Stephen is the first martyr, he was stoned to death; and St Stephen’s day offers an important realisation for us; the self-giving of God that is represented in manger of birth is now paralleled by Stephen in the giving of himself.
The very process revealed through the Christmas narrative is the creative activity of ‘giving’, an orientation of humanity toward the Divine activity of the creator, the giver of all.

Our secular world distracts us from this process, and so too distorts the whole process of nativity with the event of Boxing day.
A short extract from the papers:

Russell Zimmerman, the head of the Australian Retailers Association, outlined yesterday that the peak retail industry body's forecast of $15.1 billion to be spent across the nation in post-Christmas sales could be surpassed after yesterday's[Boxing day] booming start to the annual shopping spree.
"Everyone I spoke to, both retail operators and CEOs, told me it had been exceptionally good (yesterday)," Mr Zimmerman said.
"The buzz around (Sydney's) Pitt Street Mall was bigger this year than last.
"On the basis of what happened (yesterday), and providing this continues over the next 20 days, I'd say our prediction of $15.1bn will be blown out of the water."
[The Australian 27th December 2013]

And in case $15.1billion of sales doesn’t tempt you away, we have the Boxing day test match and the Sydney to Hobart yacht race

It is difficult, and requires a degree of intentionality to even hear an echo of the nativity ‘after Christmas’, yet alone to feel the import and yearning of the “new Creation’. Instead of deepening and developing the celebration of gift and giving, we are drawn by .the forces of our culture into the madness of another $15.1 billion of ‘getting’

Is there anything we can find in today’s readings that will encourage us back into the season of Christmas?

Matthew clearly does have some insight into the process; the difficulty with Matthew is that he is also trying to keep hold of his tradition, and also is seeking to accommodate and engage his traditional Jewish audience.

Matthew knows that Christ reveals ‘a new creation’, a whole new way of being in the world; however he frames his gospel iconically and symbolically in his past tradition…

It gives us the comfort of continuity; however we have to look much deeper to appreciate the essence of the gospel for ourselves.

As we look at today’s gospel, listen again to this comment in the sermon for Advent4:

“Today’s gospel has Mary as its core, or does it? Mary is mentioned twice by name, Joseph is mentioned by name four times. What if we now read the gospel again with the title “the unbelievable dream of Joseph” and wonder at the possibilities for birth that are waiting to be awakened in our most unbelievable dreams.”

Once again, today Matthew uses Joseph’s dreams to convey his gospel insight.

When we read the gospel, knowing the past traditions and knowing also the Hebrew Scriptures, we will surely be awakened to another Joseph.

Joseph is an important person in the Hebrew Bible and in the Quran, where he connects the story of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Canaan to the subsequent story of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.

Today’s gospel has so many parallels with the story of Joseph, wearer of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, that we might glimpse that Matthew is retelling, or making universal the insight of ‘liberation’ that Christ reveals for all of humanity; and is retelling it with a sense of continuity: and so we might glimpse that the “New Creation” is a further development, a going beyond the comfort of our past.

You might like to read through the ‘original’ Joseph story in genesis (Chapter 37 onwards) to more fully appreciate the icon that Matthew is writing in this part of his nativity narrative.

Matthew uses Jeremiah as a reference point:

“Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

However, perhaps he was referring us more to the character of Joseph; for the Book of Genesis tells that Joseph was the 11th of Jacob's 12 sons and Rachel's firstborn. We might therefore consider is this Matthew highlighting and illustrating, for us the “firstborn”; and so an orientation toward the “firstborn of all creation”; can we see in this icon an example of humanity fully engaged with Divine activity?

Mary and Joseph could not return home after their encounter with Divine birth, and next week we will discover that the Magi when they sought to return home had to travel by a different route, it was a new journey and not a return journey for them after their encounter with Divine birth..

Those of us who have had children very clearly, and experientially, know that following the process of birth, and giving birth, life is never the same as it was before.
And perhaps that is a truism for every act of creation/creativity, for the process of birth is never an end in itself; it is always the beginning of something new.

No wonder our secular culture goes to so much effort to disguise the feast of St Stephen, what if we stayed with the gift and the activity of giving that is revealed by the firstborn of all creation?

Can you imagine how we might change the world?

There is little point in preaching such a message… for it has to be sought, and in seeking it is there to be discovered….
However a sense of perspective on where we sit in the world can help.

Currently, the per capita income of a Nepali is $472, the revised macro-economic indicator reveals. [The Himalayan December 28th 2013]

With a population of around 25million people that means the total income for Nepalese people is less than the expected spend of Australians in the post-Christmas sales.

May we all continue to pursue theosis in the season of Christmas and thereafter….

“Theosis”,

In Christian theology, theosis (deification, making divine, or divinization) is the transforming effect of divine grace, the spirit of God, or the atonement of Christ. It literally means to become more divine, more like God, or take upon a divine nature.

It is the realisation that the word became flesh.

Amen

Peter Humphris