Emmanuel – God is with Us
Mathew 2:14 “Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod.”
The saga of the shattered glass door of our beloved church continued this week as a symbol of the true nature of the nativity story. The contractor in his haste to install the new reinforced doors painted it black, not brown like the other fittings. He decided not to install them until after the holidays when he can ensure a perfect fit. So, we were left with the shattered doors! Then Roy, an electrical engineer, one of our more recent members newly arrived from India, in act of boldness declared “Father I will decorate this church with so much lights no one will even look at the doors!” And he did.
My friends, Mathew reports, not too long after the birth of Jesus, any semblance of safety and comfort was quickly shattered, and the Holy Family had to head back out into the cold, harsh reality of a life on the run from the hatred of Herod. The manger was a mere respite from the harried life of the poor, refugee status in which Jesus was born. Now, in a place and time when the Episcopal church wrestles with what to do with its many abandoned and underutilized buildings due to congregations fleeing from its sordid past of ambivalence towards urban ministry, it is poignant we are currently focused on a homeless Jesus; a Jesus in exile.
While it is quite easy to focus upon the power hungry, blood thirsty Biblical Herod and the many new Herodians we live with in today’s world, I suggest we not add to the quota of the attention such types deeply desire. Unless, it is to reminder that God knew, as powerful as they seemed then and now, these individuals couldn’t and can’t escape the clutches and finality of death. God’s focus was not on their shattering power but was on pointing The Holy Family the way and place to live without fear. When Jesus declares to Thomas in John 14:1-3, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” It was more than another prophetic concept, but a living reality in which Mary, his mother, would have told him from early in his childhood about their desperate flight to Africa. Mary nurtured him on how God opened a way; God carried them along the way and God was the way. Egypt, in North Africa, was the place, but God was the way and God remains the way. Thus, for Christians, Jesus is both the way and the destination.
Those of us living in urban communities should be comforted and feel a sense of pride that when Jesus needed a place for security and stability, God took him to Africa. Africa then becomes Jesus’ first stop in his work of salvation! Shattered doors are not broken promises, but only Herodians fleeting acts in their deathward spiral. Shattered lives are not about God’s broken promises, but an open and ongoing invitation for a closer walk with Christ Jesus. Jesus found shelter in a land that experienced more than its fair share of brokenness; and yet, Egypt provided shelter and refuge to our Savior.
The incarnation mystery of Jesus being called Emmanuel (God is with us) proclaims with boldness the presence of God within hearts, minds and communities shattered by the scourges of human greed, racism and power-hungry leaders. Urban communities are often left to struggle under the oppressiveness of leaders who sacrifice communities on the altars of expediency. Herodian policies often sacrifice the poor in order to sustain the wealthy. Food stamps and housing vouchers must be reduced in order to sustain tax breaks for the rich. Herod was willing to massacre innocent children in his blood thirsty lust for power. Today, many children are locked away in immigration prisons only to assuage the thirst of the power hungry. Urban communities continue to struggle with disparities of health care, incarceration rates, wages, job opportunities, housing and even worship experiences. And yet, Jesus sought and found refuge in Africa!
Emmanuel tells us that God is never far away from us, but always with us no matter the life shattering incident we may experience. Nothing or no one will ever separate a Christian from the loving power and presence of God. Today, we cry with the women who lost their sons due to Herod’s murderous rant. Today, we cry with women whose sons are incarcerated, whose children are struggling with mental illness, whose children are dying due to the opioid crisis. Yes, there is so much crying in a world filled with brokenness and pain as wealth and resources are being hoarded by a few. Yet, Emmanuel continues to declare God’s presence that overpowers gloom, despair and darkness very much like Roy’s lights.
Yes, eventually both Jesus and Herod die, but only one prevails over death! Love is more powerful than evil! Love conquers all is more than an anthem but hopes clarion cry to all whose lives may be shattered. The shattered glass does not symbolize the destiny, but a short stop on our destination. Let’s build our hopes, dreams and faith upon the refugee who became our God and savior, Emmanuel!