A sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas, Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
One of the more interesting aspects of moving to Longview has been the realization that as much as I claim this town, as much as I share about its wonderful eccentricities and interesting history and challenging dynamics, as much as I have learned and understand about this, my chosen home, I will never be treated or recognized locally as someone who’s opinion on Longview is worth much of anything because I am “not from here.”
This dynamic is not unique to Longview of course, every town bemoans the “outsiders” who come in and change the long-standing way of life, who move a city in a new direction, who bring fresh ideas and perspectives and financial investment (I mean, how dare they!), and who also do not understand the history and culture and emotion of a given place forever captured in a memory.
What is unique to Longview, and likely other towns like it (although I’m not sure there are many towns that are very much similar to Longview), is the sense of fear, or if not fear, deep mistrust, of anyone who moves into this community, even if they have lived here for 20 or 30 or 40 years in some cases. So, imagine how hard it can be sometimes as someone who has only lived here for 16 months. Clearly, I know not of what I talk about. Clearly, I do not understand the unique circumstances that impact Longview. Clearly, I did not do a lot of research and deep prayer before accepting a call to a community I had never heard of before (something that I think old-time Longview residents are proud of in some weird way?).
This deep mistrust of so-called “outsiders,” this near-impossibility to ingratiate yourself into a community that you have chosen as yours as opposed to randomly being born into it, mostly makes me chuckle to myself. It’s a weird quirk of this admittedly weird community that I am so grateful to live in, even when I get frustrated by the problems and arguments that happen in our community.
But, it’s also dangerous.
It’s dangerous because it pits our community against each other.
It’s dangerous because it keeps our community stuck in one moment of time that remembers the shadow of economic growth and stability but is more closely emulating the periods of economic downturn and malaise (even as many exciting things are starting to happen in this community).
It’s dangerous, and it certainly is not based on our call as Christians.
Jesus Christ is not from here.
But, I don’t mean that pedantically.
Jesus is born in Bethlehem.
Then due to political authority unrest and persecution, Jesus’ family flees to safety in Egypt.
The first act of Jesus’ life is to become a political refugee in a foreign country, and it is because his adoptive father has the depth of faith to listen to the vision he has received.
Then, after a period of time, news arrives that Herod has died and it is safe to return back to Israel.
But, upon returning, the family realizes it is not safe to return to their home of Judea because Herod’s son Archelaus is ruling, and it doesn’t feel safe to them, to have the one child of an age where all of his contemporaries were slaughtered.
So, they travel further and settle in the district of Galilee, in the town of Nazareth.
Nazareth will become Jesus’ adoptive “hometown.”
He will be called the Nazarean. Jesus of Nazareth. Nazareth is where Jesus will return to read from the scrolls in the synagogue and be nearly murdered for it. Nazareth is the hometown for Jesus.
Imagine if it had been Longview. He’d be known as Jesus of Egypt or Bethlehem, because there is no way he’d been allowed to claim this place as his hometown, because he is not from here.
I’m being a little facetious here, but the point remains: when we engage in tribalism, nationalism, even “patriotism,” that creates a sense that there is an “us” and “them” and never shall the two meet, we create an unhealthy understanding of the world, and we create unnecessary barriers between “us” and the rest of the world.
In Christ’s early life we see him accepted and welcomed in multiple places, we see him find his home in a town that is not his birthplace or his family’s home, and yet, in that place, they find a welcome and comfort and security that here is the place where life can blossom and grow.
How can we then take this story of Christ’s early years and influence and shape our community?
We know that through Christ we are destined “for adoption as his [God’s] children.”
And, in our faith we receive “a spirit of wisdom and revelation.”
When we combine those two realities of our faith, reflecting upon this reality of Jesus’ early life, we begin to understand what we are called to do in our own hometowns, adoptive and birth alike.
Through our faith, through that spirit of wisdom and revelation we are called to strip away the barriers that exist that keep “others” from being considered “one of us.”
Through our faith, through that spirit of wisdom and revelation we are called to remove impediments to belonging to community, any community.
Through our faith, through that spirit of wisdom and revelation we are called to change the hearts of those who have hardened.
Through our faith, through that spirit of wisdom and revelation we are called to live our lives in a manner that none can question our faith, that none can question who we follow, that none have to wonder if we are Christian.
This is long-standing work.
The church has been around for 2000 years and we’re still working at it.
But, it is important work nonetheless, and we do see changes happening all around us. We see change when someone who was once considered an “outsider” is welcomed in without question. We see change when someone who is “not from here,” is treated the same as our closest friends and family. We see change when our work to strip away barriers and remove impediments inspires others in our community to engage in the radical work of welcoming and loving all of God’s children.
For we do not have a birth-right to being a child of God in faith.
That wasn’t the point of creation.
Instead, we have the right to adoption as God’s children through the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is his life, his birth and these first few years of instability and wandering and welcoming by unexpected places, that reconnects this creation to the creator and opens the avenue for us to experience that same relationship with God as a parent with their child. And, it is our faith in this life of Christ, our faith in living into and modeling the example that has been laid before us, that inspires us to seeking that relationship with God.
When you go out from this place today, I challenge you to see the world through a new lens.
See the world through the lens of Mary and Joseph as they flee to Egypt to escape a ruthless political leader who will slaughter thousands of innocent children, who try to return to their home only to realize it still isn’t safe there and decide to settle in an altogether different place than we have yet to see in this story.
See the world through that lens and understand that continuing to prop up a culture that leans so very hard into an understanding of an “us” and “them” is so radically opposed to what we are called to in our faith, the faith we have through Jesus Christ, the faith that can only exist because of these early challenges and trials his parents had to face to find a safe place for him to learn and grow.
When we engage in our community and our world through this lens, we begin to see how ridiculous it is to question those who seek a safe and secure home in any community.
As you go forth today, reflect upon this experience of Christ at the beginning of his life, and be inspired to change our own community so that even the Christ child would be fully welcomed and wholly embraced.