The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:

s008g10  Sunday after Christmass 26/12/2010

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

‘flee to Egypt!’  Matthew 2.13

I have sometimes wryly wondered what happened to the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, that the wise men / kings brought Jesus, whose departure begins the words of today’s gospel.   Suddenly an obscure birth to an equally unpretentious couple had escalated to assume more than a little importance for the movers and shakers in society.   The baby was a possible political rival to the king.  And it was precisely the three kings who had alerted Herod to the danger.   Perhaps the wise men weren’t actually.   As the old joke goes, if they were three wise women, they would have
· Asked directions,
· Arrived on time,
· Helped deliver the baby,
· Cleaned the stable,
· Made a casserole, and
· Brought practical gifts.
How fascinating ‘Google’ is, to be able to retrieve the words of this so easily!   And I reflect that perhaps the gold, frankincense, and myrrh were used to enable the Holy Family to survive in Egypt.   When they eventually returned to make a home in Nazareth it is likely that the proceeds from the gifts was well and truly spent.

And this shows us how ‘wisdom’ and ‘power’ are essentially destructive, and we too are called to flee such things.   It is interesting that even then the Holy Land was an unsafe place to be!   Recently I received a comment in response to one of my sermons: ‘You helped me remember that the modern church is not a sanctuary from malice and anxiety.’ (thanks Bob :-)  When I replied I said: ‘I sometimes wonder if I'm cursed with an unreasonable idealism ..’

Egypt was entirely other.   If there was hatred between the Samaritans and the Israelites, Egypt was a million times worse.   It was the land of their past servitude.   They worshipped idols.   There was no way one could observe the kosher rituals there.  It was entirely unclean.   And yet this is where we are told Jesus went.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that the infancy narratives were historic events.   If one reads the bible and then makes a virtue out of believing the literal and historical accuracy of each and every statement there, then it seems to me that the person who does this is making distinctions between people.   The words about Jesus’ early life were not written to give us a biography of Jesus.   They are trying to link Jesus with the ancient people of God - to show how Jesus fulfils scripture.   The object of this exercise was to form links with the ancient people of God - not to distance the followers of Jesus from the past.

Jesus comes and makes connections, not just with the orthodox and devout, but also with the alien and the unclean.   So to use the words of the Bible to do the opposite, to distance the ‘real’ ‘christians’ from the rest is to do precisely the opposite of what the Bible tries to do.

Making connections is done in homes and neighbourhoods, as well as between nations.

Some time ago we were horrified to learn that someone had bludgeoned 23 protected seals to death.   Who could have perpetrated such an atrocity?   But it made me wonder if the person felt so powerless in a society where power is everything, that they ‘had’ to club something to death.   Horrible though it is, perhaps it is better that the person did not club a human to death.

It seems to me that the ‘church’ does nothing to help make connections between people by asserting how right, how special, how sacred it is.   What the world needs is connections between people, not endless divisions.   The world doesn’t need self-elected and self-ordained people to come along challenging them, marginalising some, alienating others, condemning most everyone else who doesn’t think like them, believe like them, live like them or worship like them - which is actually most others .. especially when done in the name of the God of love ..

Today we celebrate the Holy Family.   Any pretensions to greatness they might have had would have been quickly dispelled when they became fugitives from the powers that be.   Someone said once that the ordinary peasant in England in times past would not have travelled more than 5 miles from their village of birth.   This explains the multitude of local dialects.   So a journey to a foreign land 300 kms away to the Suez Canal was huge.  Just as well they didn’t arrive in Australia by a leaking boat during a storm! :-)

We are told that Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus found sanctuary in Egypt!   How strange that God is safer in alien places, in unclean places, in enemy territory!   But the gospel record shows us this, and that in the end God was killed by the orthodox, the clean, and the devout.

This should alert us to the fact that orthodoxy, cleanliness and devotion - our orthodoxy, cleanliness and devotion - can kill God.   In our efforts to magnify the Lord, we can effectively murder God.   If we attempt to protect God from everything unclean, we deny the incarnation.   If we attempt to shield God from the multitude of people who do not live up to our expectations for ‘real’ ‘christians’, we are denying who God is reflected in Jesus.

I finished my sermon for Christmass with the reflection that we are called to treat others as we would have them treat us.  And I am currently enjoying preparing a sermon for the 9th of January were I will be preaching for Evensong at Christchurch Cathedral.   And I have realised that Jesus didn’t say ‘do unto white, straight, male Christians, what you would have them do unto you’ or ‘love your white, straight, male Christian neighbour as yourself’.   So I want to further suggest that accepting people of colour, gay people, women equally as men, and people regardless of their faith or lack thereof is not a liberal secularist plot!

I often think about spiritual events as something out of the ordinary.   I am not at all wanting to criticise those who have had profound experiences of the divine but to recognise that this is unusual.   But we can be hoodwinked into thinking that we must look for times when God feels especially present, when God lifts us above our mundane existence into the first, if not the ‘third heaven’. (2 Cor 11.2)   And I wonder if this is not to live our lives chasing the fabulous lottery win, that elusive hole in one, or whatever.   A god that condemned the whole of humanity to live on such a perpetually endless goose chase is also a demon and no god.  

The special revelation that Paul had on that road to Damascus was given to stop him persecuting others who didn’t live up to his religious ideals, in the name of ‘god’.   I am sure that he realised how sad that the experience was necessary in the first place.

And I wonder if not *the* time when we ‘do unto others’ is when we are intimate with the person we love.   It is not that we are aware of God’s presence, a holy ménage à trois or even that we should be seeking such an experience, but it is the time when we are doing as God would have us do, even when our focus is quite definitely somewhere else.

For many people their family upbringing was far from perfect.   The war years, depression and the sadness of the Vietnam war had profound effect on everyone’s lives, and those who returned ‘unharmed’ (superficially), still carried and carry burdens that those of us who have not experienced war can scarcely imagine.   But when I grew up ‘children were to be seen and not heard’ - an abuse if ever there was one.   Calling God ‘Father’ brings many people recurrent nightmares of rejection and abuse.   But God is the perfect Father and Mother, respecting and loving each and every one of their children without hesitation, distinction and expectation.   Each and every person, ‘christian’ or not, male or not, anglo-celtic or something else, straight or gay, saint or sinner, whatever - all are loved for who we are without hesitation, distinction and expectation.   And when the church faithfully reflects this, then it faithfully reflects God and Jesus whom we follow.

If we don’t respect and love each and every one of God’s children without hesitation, distinction and expectation, is the church any different from Herod who killed the innocents indiscriminately because one amongst the many might not bow to his majesty?

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