Jeremiah 31:7-14, Psalm 84:1-8, Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a, Matthew 2:1-12
On this tenth day of Christmas, we continue to hear the story of God coming to us in the flesh – of God coming to live and die as we do. Our gospel reading is of the Magi coming from the East to pay homage to the Christ Child. Unlike what our Christmas pageants portray, the wise men do not find, as the shepherds do, a baby wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. Instead, they find a small child in a house with his mother. The word translated from the Greek for “child” in this passage is the word that was used to refer to young child – or toddler. Thus, our Christmas pageants use a great deal of poetic license to simplify the telling of Christ’s birth. The incarnation of God is Jesus.
Though knowing this is good for a game of Bible Trivia, it is not important to the message in this passage. Today’s gospel is setting the stage for Joseph taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape King Herod. But, more importantly, it is telling us that Jesus came to reconcile all of us to God. Jesus is the messiah for all people – not just the people of Israel who were awaiting the coming of a messiah. The wise men from the East are not Jewish – yet they see the star and come to Jesus, bringing him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
They know and understand the significance of Jesus’ birth when people of his faith do not. Like with Luke’s story of the angels appearing to the shepherd’s and announcing the birth of the messiah, this story tells us that the message of hope Jesus brings is for hope to the poor, the lowly, and the oppressed – not the high and lofty rulers and religious leaders.
In today’s gospel the arrival of Jesus is celebrated by people who would not be welcomed in the temple. The significance of Christ’s birth is not understood by the kings, the priests, the Pharisees, and the scribes. Jesus comes to restore the people’s broken and misguided relationship with God. He does not come because we have earned and deserve his presence, but as a gift from God, our creator. God’s love for us is immeasurable.
Jesus brings hope into a world in need of hope. We are need of hope today. The Corona virus continues to infect people at an alarmingly high rate and hospitals across the country are short staffed and near or at capacity. The vaccines are being distributed, but it will take months to administer enough to make a difference.
Our reading from Jeremiah is another message of hope, offered to a people who have experienced the destruction of their nation. There is but a remnant of the people of Israel left and they have been scattered throughout the world. This pandemic has isolated families, one from another, and interrupted our Christmas traditions.
The people may be separated from one another, but the prophet Jeremiah calls upon the people to:
Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob,
and raise shouts for the chief of the nations;
proclaim, give praise, and say,
“Save, O Lord, your people,
the remnant of Israel.”
See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north,
and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth,
among them the blind and the lame, those with child and
those in labor, together;
a great company, they shall return here.
With weeping they shall come,
and with consolations I will lead them back,
I will let them walk by brooks of water,
in a straight path in which they shall not stumble;
for I have become a father to Israel,
and Ephraim is my firstborn.
There is only a remnant of the people of Israel remaining, but God, though the prophet Jeremiah tells them they will be reunited! This is what we long for today. We long to be reunited in church, in restaurants, and in our homes. We long to gather, without masks, and to be able to hug one another.
History is full of such stories. Families separated by plagues and political unrest, riots and wars, and natural disasters. History is also full of stories of people reuniting and rebuilding their lives. Our faith offers us hope, and the birth of Jesus reminds us that God’s love is ever present – even when we fail to see it.
One of the most important lessons from the Old Testaments stories is that there is always hope. Yes, there are dark times in the lives of God’s people, but there is always the promise of peace and restoration. The Christmas story reminds of this as well. God’s love is ever present to reassure and comfort us.
God may not come to us as a child wrapped in bands of cloth or a toddler in a house with his mother, but God does come to us in the flesh. God is the source of love and when we act in love to one another, we are sharing the love of God – the love that is eternal. It is a love that existed before us and will exist long after us.
This past year was horrific, and we pray that 2021 will be a year of healing. I do believe it will be. Even during the worst of times last year, the grace of God was with us – God’s love certainly has sustained me and given me hope that the remnant of God’s people will be reunited and the joy of God’s immeasurable love experienced in this church and in this community.
Let us pray. God of hope and God of love, as we begin this new year, we pray for healing in our world, our nation, our communities, and our families. Keep us mindful of what we need to do to keep our friends, family, and our neighbors safe as we continue to battle this pandemic. Strengthen our faith and fill us with hope and comfort and give us patience to wait for the time when we might be reunited. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.