What a pleasure it’s been for me to celebrate Christmas with First Church, as we joyfully re-affirmed that God has come to us, is coming to us, and will come to us. Yet, now that Christmas is over, I’m reminded that not everyone celebrates the presence of Emmanuel — God-with-us.
That was true in Jesus’ day.(see Matthew 2) Herod was suspicious of this child whose birth was revealed to him through the visit of the magi. At first, he kept his distance and, later, he slaughtered the innocents to ensure that the baby wouldn’t grow up. The child escaped that attempt on his life, but religious elites and the Romans succeeded where Herod failed. Jesus was a threat to Herod’s reign, the civic order commanded by the Emperor Augustus, and to those of his countrymen who used religion to serve their own interests.
God’s presence in the world through the birth of Jesus continues to be a source of threat. That God has come to us and is present with us is an awesome thing when we consider it. For the God who comes to us in love also makes demands of us.
As cute as we may imagine that little baby born in a Bethlehem stable to have been, as an adult, Jesus called God’s people to a new righteousness. A central messages was that we should show others the same extravagant, gracious welcome God offers each of us — no matter who we are. Sad to say, in our own day, some religious authorities and politicians who would pose as religious authorities, as well as countless eager followers looking to blame others for their misfortunes, are threatened by such a message.
This congregation has done much to issue a wide invitation and to ensure a warm welcome to all. My fervent hope as we enter a new year together is that we will live ever more fully in the joy of what Jesus’ message of God’s love really means: Continuing to shake off the deceptive dust of learned prejudice and narrow-minded intolerance, and moving ever more beyond our fear of those who are different from us to recognize in them what Jesus spent his entire ministry trying tell us — they are our sisters and brothers in the family of God.
God comes to us. May we not be threatened by God’s presence in Christ, but rejoice that such inclusive love — embracing those different from us, strangers, outcasts, even enemies — means that each us, with all our imperfections, is a beloved child of God as well.
Peace and Blessings for the New Year, Jonathan