God with Us to Save

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Peder Stenslie
1st Sunday of Christmas
Hebrews 2:10-18; Matthew 2:13-23

In our rich society, the basis for Christmas joy often gets confused. Chestnuts roasting by an open fire… Christmas lights, Christmas parties and Christmas songs may all create a nostalgic sense of happiness; but the true basis for Christmas joy is that God, in Christ, shares the human experience… the joys, the trials… and especially the suffering and pain… in order that he can be our savior.


I hope all of you had a wonderful and meaningful Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. That, of course, is easier for some than others. We have a sense of how things should be at Christmastime. There should be family, good food, warm and friendly conversation… and, of course, lots of good feeling.

For some who must mark painful losses suffered over the past year (or longer), like our Pastor Renee, images of all the good stuff of Christmas can evoke many painful thoughts and feelings. It can be hard to find or feel Christmas joy.

For you students who are incarcerated here over the holiday, it can also be very hard. You are away from home, separated from friends and family… confined to your cottage while the world around you celebrates. You are left alone to wonder, “What will the future hold for me?” It can be hard to connect with the popular image of Christmas when we are in a situation like that.

And so we come to church on the first Sunday after Christmas for a dose of good comfort and feeling; and we are blindsided by this shocking and terrifying Gospel. Why, on this day of joy following the birth of Christ, do we have such a disturbing text?

Jesus is hunted by the pathetic puppet-king Herod… and because Herod can’t find Jesus, he orders the killing of all young children in and around Bethlehem. In the wake of the incredible Christmas gift, a slaughter of innocents takes place… a wave of terror and pain washes over the world.

Why? I can offer no other answer than it’s because Christ is born into a world full of sin and human suffering… a world where such terrible things happen. Christ was born into our world… and this is what our world is like.

In our rich society, the basis for Christmas joy often gets confused. Chestnuts roasting by an open fire… Christmas lights, Christmas parties and Christmas songs may all create a nostalgic sense of happiness; but the true basis for Christmas joy is that God, in Christ, shares the human experience… the joys, the trials… and especially the suffering and pain… in order that he can be our savior.

The lesson from Hebrews today repeats three times two important points about Jesus.

1st… Jesus has become human in every respect, so that he can call us his brothers and sisters. He has come to share the same things as us. He is truly and deeply one with us. That is an amazing thing to consider.

2nd… Jesus has done this, not because he longs for human friendship, but so that he can be our savior, so that he can deliver us from the sin and death that holds our world and our lives in bondage. That is a wonderful thing to know.

Emmanuel, which means “God with us,” and Jesus, which means “he saves:” That’s what today’s Hebrews lesson tells us about.

So often we associate Christmas with coziness, pleasantness, warmth… and other good and happy things. We forget that, though it is indeed cause for great joy, it is a work of God that takes place under the shadow of death and human suffering. It is, for God… and for Christ, a painful work, done out of love, but at a terrible price. This work of God brings great joy and eternal life to us, but it does so by God wrapping himself in human pain, and subjecting himself to the powers of sin and death.

That isn’t really cozy at all. It is beautiful, but it’s dark and difficult.

Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us of that fact. It foreshadows the crucifixion. From the moment he entered this world, Jesus had a price on his head. He was a marked man.
He will be Jesus, “our savior.” In order to do that, he had to get in our skin… truly become “God with us…” Emmanuel.

Jesus came into this world full of pain, suffering and death in order to deliver to this world God’s saving power. He became one of us so that his gifts of light and life might fill our world with strength and hope and joy. May he make us… our lives… a part of that work. May Jesus be born in your heart and mine, and may he create in us true Christmas joy, Christmas light… Christmas life.

Amen.