12.13.15 When Dreams Meet Daylight Matthew 2:1-18 Sermon Summary
It’s time the church told the Christmas story that is actually biblical and not just the one that appears on Hallmark cards.
- The dream of a Davidic King
- The daylight of Herod’s massacre
- The example of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus
- God as “first responder” to our suffering
- The Christian perspective on suffering
- Advent and the Lord’s Table as the places where we live in faith
Matthew’s Gospel tells the story about the Adoration of the Magi, as the tradition calls it. Side B of this popular story is called the Slaughter of the Innocents. I’ve never received a depiction of it on a Christmas card.
In this reflection, I want to talk about when dreams meet daylight, using the hymn “In Bethlehem a Newborn Boy” (Glory to God no. 153) to guide our way. For Jews of Jesus’ day, the dream had to begin in Bethlehem. Bethlehem is the rural town outside of Jerusalem where King David was born. And David was the embodiment of Jewish hope and faith. He was the symbol of God’s promises of peace and prosperity, of societal stability and personal well-being. The Newer Testament presents Jesus as the new David, the dream of Jews and God alike.
But dreams are always at the risk of daylight. Mary was told she would have a baby; a dream come true. But Mary was an unwed teen; daylight. Dream: She was told the baby would be great. Daylight: a sword would pierce her soul. The Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But immediately Jesus’ family becomes refugees in Egypt, for King Herod is seeking to destroy the child. Dreams meet daylight.
The challenge for us this Christmas is receiving the gift of Christ while living in reality at the same time.
1 In Bethlehem a newborn boy was hailed with songs of praise and joy. Then warning came of danger near: King Herod’s troops would soon appear.
I wonder when Jesus’ family heard about the slaughter. Of course they would have been grateful. But they would also have been afraid. They would always be looking over their shoulders, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Though they had reason to fear, Jesus’ family must have grown in faith. Eventually they returned from Egypt to Nazareth and lived their lives.
But what about Jesus in particular? When did he become aware of the slaughter? What impact did it have on him? He obviously would have been grateful also. But he probably asked, “Why was I spared? Why did the angel warn my parents and not the parents of the other children in and around Bethlehem?” This probably led to a profound sense of purpose within Jesus. The gospels proclaim that Jesus discerned the purpose of his life was to serve others.
When dreams meet daylight, can we grow in faith like Joseph and Mary? And can we find purpose in serving others?
2 The soldiers sought the child in vain: not yet was he to share our pain; but down the ages rings the cry of those who saw their children die.
Our day knows its share of Rachel’s “wailing and loud lamentation.” There are countless parents around the world weeping for their children “who are no more:” Nearly 300 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram; Over 2000 Palestinians and over 100 Israeli children killed since 2000; Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary, Umpqua Community College. . .
And this not to mention the many other ways parents lose children: In dangerous professions, to prison, to mental illness, to disease, to post-traumatic stress, to drug use, in car accidents, to religious fanaticism. . .
One of the greatest difficulties of grief is trying to mourn in a culture that sees mourning as weak. We’re told to keep it together, to stay busy, to move on as fast as we can. We’re programmed to avoid suffering, so how aware can we be of suffering in the world? And if we are not aware, how can there be any hope of our doing anything about it?
3 Still rage the fires of hate today, and innocents the price must pay, while aching hearts in every land cry out, “We cannot understand!”
We may avoid suffering, but God does not. One of the things Jesus reveals to us is that God is like a first responder. Where we would run from suffering, God enters in. We see this in Jesus’ baptism into our sinful state. John would have prevented him from being baptized with his baptism of repentance, but Jesus insisted to establish his solidarity with us. Immediately following Jesus was tempted in the desert with the exact temptations that we face our whole lives. Throughout his ministry Jesus entered the suffering of people like lepers, touching them, healing them. Finally he was tortured and executed by Pilate, the Roman governor of the region.
But Jesus’ entering our suffering started all the way back at his birth when Herod threatened his life. This is why the faithful observe Advent before Christmas and Lent before Easter. These seasons get us in touch with the reality of suffering, the daylight that makes the dream a dream.
During this Advent, can we contemplate not just the birth of Christ, but the suffering of Christ also? Can we see that he suffered not as a sacrifice for sin, but as proof of a compassionate God, a God who suffers with us?
4 Lord Jesus, through our night of loss shines out the wonder of your cross, the love that cannot cease to bear our human anguish everywhere.
A popular reading during funerals is Ecclesiastes 2:1, 4. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven; a time to mourn and a time to dance.” Jesus preached, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
There are a variety of religious and philosophical approaches to suffering. Some teach that suffering must be overcome. Others that it must be endured. Still others teach that suffering should be avoided at all costs. Others that it is best ignored.
Christian reflection is somewhat unique. We teach that suffering is to be redeemed. And redemption comes with Christ, first at his birth, when he suffers with us, and finally at his return, when his kingdom comes in its fullest. The church lives in between these advents, between mourning and rejoicing. We live in the reality of both.
And in this mean time, in this Season-of-Advent life, God calls us to do as Christ did: To acknowledge the pain of this world, and to pray and work for its redemption. The Lord’s Table is the concentrated symbol of this reality. Here Jesus commands us to “do this in remembrance of me.” It is a memorial remembrance, which evokes sadness over Jesus’ death. But it is also an encouraging remembrance, during which we hope again in Jesus’ promises of perpetual presence, of resurrection, and of ultimate redemption.
During Advent we look back at Jesus’ Incarnation at birth, and forward to Jesus’ Incarnation at the resolution of all things. Here at the Table we are suspended between these two advents. The Table calls us to mourn and to rejoice at the same time. And the only way we can do this is by faith—faith that suffering can be and will be redeemed, faith that knows the dream will survive when daylight comes, for the dream is fulfilled in the light of Christ.
5 May that great love our lives control and conquer hate in every soul, till, pledged to build and not destroy, we share your pain and find your joy.