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His Story is Our Story
In the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel we will hear the bulk of this year in our Sunday liturgies, we begin by hearing the who and how of Jesus’ identity. His birth and the foreshadowing of his destiny.
Matthew is widely presumed to have been a Jewish Christian--someone familiar with the Jewish scriptures who was able to set the story of Christ within the construct of the narrative with which he would have been most familiar.
Rather like J.R. Tolkien was a Christian, and used the New Testament in order to offer structure and symbolism to his Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but, that’s besides the point…
Back to Matthew…In Matthew’s telling, we are invited to connect Jesus’ birth with the promise of God’s ongoing intervention in the liberation of God’s people. Matthew begins with phrasing that harkens back to Genesis at the beginning of the Gospel. He offers us a genealogy that firmly sets Jesus as an heir of David and sets Mary, his mother’s, conception amongst other scriptural narratives in which women have given birth under unusual circumstances.
But, not only does Matthew use the law and the prophets of Judaism to reinforce the who and hence of this child, he incorporates the the Gentiles. The Gentiles were those outside of Jewish custom and religious practice, and so when three foreign dignitaries arrive in Bethlehem, we are being pointedly shown that the impact of this birth goes beyond any one culture. This birth and this child will become a unitive force between the Jews and the Gentiles and in this his influence will extend far beyond the limits of cultural, religious and political boundaries.
This child is heir of David and in this he has inherited the full weight of prophecy. This is the one who will “bring forth justice to the nations”. This vulnerable child lies at the center of a complex web of political, religious, and military resistance to oppression.
And so the family flees.
They flee their homeland and all they know, for the loss of home and community is far less devastating than the potential loss of their child.
The leave because anywhere is safer than this land under Roman role...they leave because hot at their heels are soldiers charged with the slaughter of the innocents.
As Kenyan born poet Warsan Shire writes in “Home”, a poem dedicated to the current Syrian refugee crisis, “no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your year saying- leave, run away from me now i don’t know what i’ve become but i know that anywhere is safer than here” (http://seekershub.org/blog/2015/09/home-warsan-shire/)
And, so they go--to anywhere--and the child and his story disappear from sight.
Which brings us to this moment. This moment in which the child, having survived that flight by night, stands as an adult at the side of a river. The Jordan River, running right through the heart of what had been Herod’s domain.
30 years. 30 years of hiding. 30 years of waiting.
Waiting, for the stories continuation on the banks of a river where all that had been promised would begin to come to fruition.
In my first call in ordained ministry, I became no stranger to waiting. The waiting for a surgery to be over. The waiting to get out of the hospital. The waiting for death. The waiting for birth. The waiting for things to simply, get better, while we prayed that they not get worse. In pediatric chaplaincy, I waited alongside so many who could do nothing but wait. One of these families waited for a year before they were finally able to take their child, born far too early, home.
A home coming that truly defied all odds. Having arrived too soon, he survived, and it was not until two years after his birth, that his parents finally felt they could safely celebrate his arrival.
But, not just his arrival...
They called the celebration, his “arrival, survival and thrival” party. Now that his survival was largely assured, they wanted to celebrate: first of all, the birth that marked his arrival; then the end of the long hospital stay that was focused on survival; and now, most of all, to make it clear that having arrived and survived, this child would thrive.
Given my training and my own belief that all of our story’s can be set amongst the stories of our ancestors in faith...I cannot help but draw parallels between this sequence: arrive, survive and thrive, and the narrative that we have heard these last weeks.
Jesus arrived, he survived, and now, he will thrive. After 30 years of waiting, his time had come to begin his ministry.
A ministry, publicly claimed and proclaimed in his baptism. “This is my Son, the beloved”
And, the story turns.
This moment of baptism marks the beginning of a new life, and a public identity, that cannot be denied. Baptism also firmly cements Jesus as one of us...he like us will be born anew through baptism...and we like him, will be born anew through baptism. He like us, we like him. All beloved.
Arrival, survival, and thrival--as the beloved children of God. And, when we fully accept our own identity as beloved children, we accept our calling...
From the prophet Isaiah, “I [the Lord] have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
As God’s beloved son, Jesus will participate in the liberation of all who have been bound to the exploitative and destructive powers of this world. As God’s beloved children, we too are asked to participate in this.
We were asked and today we will answer...when we renew our baptismal covenant, our promises, alongside those for whom these promises are made for the very first time, we take our place in the story alongside the Christ who took his place in our midst.
His story is ours. Our story, is his.
And so, today, at the edge of the font, on the bank of the river...I want you to listen very carefully to the commitments you make, here in public.
I want you to imagine what your life is going to look like, now that you have taken your place as beloved.
I want you to consider what it will mean to live these commitments in every moment of every day.
I want you to come out of hiding, and not just survive, but thrive.