Give Me Jesus

by | Jan 1, 2023

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Jarrett McLaughlin
“Give Me Jesus”
January 1, 2023
Matthew 2:7-18

Pre-Scripture:

Last Sunday – it was Christmas Day – and we were sitting at the dinner table. My parents were there along with a couple of other guests. One of my daughters interjected a massive non-sequitur into the table conversation.

It’s not like we were talking about worship or Church at all, but she just threw it out there so everybody knew…she said: “SERMONS ARE SO LONG! Especially Dad’s!”

I would like to go on record saying that today my sermon is of a very modest word count. I’d say that shorter sermons are my New Year’s Resolution, but….I know it would never last.

Our reading today comes from the Gospel of Matthew.
Around Christmas we often hear the story of the Magi, the Wisemen, coming to visit Jesus. We seldom revisit what happens after they leave, so here is the rest of the story.

Scripture:

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’
When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

This is the Word of the Lord.
THANKS BE TO GOD.

Sermon:

“What is Real?” That is the question at the heart of Margery William’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, published 100 years ago in 1922.
A boy receives a bunny for Christmas that has velvet ears and a sprig of holly between his paws.

The rabbit is cast aside in the nursery amidst the excitement of Christmas day. Some of the other, more fancy toys – the wind-up soldiers and the model boats – they mock the rabbit for being made of sawdust.

Fortunately. the crestfallen bunny meets the old skin horse who, in the words of Margery William, “had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive with great boasting and swagger, and by and by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew they were only toys and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful and only those playthings that are very old and wise understand it.”

“What is ‘REAL?’” the rabbit asked the skin horse one day…does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” the skin horse replied, “it’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you. Then you become Real.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up?” the rabbit asked.
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes time. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

The rabbit asked one final question: “Does it hurt?”
“Sometimes,” the skin horse said, for he always told the truth, “Sometimes it does hurt.”

Though the Velveteen Rabbit is now considered a classic of Children’s Literature, it was severely panned at the time of its publication.
“It’s too sad for Christmas, too somber for children, who need happy, uplifting tales.” That’s what the critics said.

Margery Williams disagreed. Her own father died when she was seven years old. A certain melancholy settled into her soul and clearly informed her writing. She insisted that love is not always ‘happily-ever-after,’ but love is most certainly what makes you real.

Today we read the part of the Christmas story that rarely gets read in worship services.
More often we reduce Christmas to what you’ll find in a nativity set.
But if all we see is the “holy infant so tender and mild;” if we stop the story at the arrival of those star-guided strangers all bowing in adoration, then we miss a crucial part of what Christmas is all about.

You won’t find King Herod in any of those Nativity sets that come out at Christmastime, but he casts a shadow over the whole story.
It’s a tale as old as time – those in power are desperately afraid of losing it, and fear has a way of bringing out the very worst in human nature.

Of course, Herod didn’t mean to cause that much damage. He thought that this could be a targeted assassination. If he could gather the right intel from those unsuspecting Wisemen, well he could launch a precision-attack on that specific child and be done with it.

When that plan falls apart, however, Herod has no qualms about taking a more scorched-earth approach, ordering the death of every child under two years of age around Bethlehem. The collateral damage is so great that Matthew can only invoke the prophet Jeremiah to describe it:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

That is real loss. That is raw grief.
Matthew does not pull any punches, nor does he polish the rough edges.
He tells the story as it is.

Meanwhile, the holy family goes into exile in Egypt. Think about that for a moment: Egypt is the ancestral enemy of the Jewish people dating back to the days of Moses, and yet Jesus is safer in Egypt than he is among his own people.

Jesus, Joseph and Mary – real refugees.
Matthew does not pull any punches, nor does he polish the rough edges.
He tells the story as it is.

I don’t know about you, but for several weeks now we’ve been receiving all the Christmas Cards from all the people; sending out our own. Eventually all of these cards get taped to our laundry room door so we can keep these friends before us all year long.

As I go in to start the washer or pull clothes out of the dryer for folding – which is All.The.Time. – I scan the faces on those cards. Every now and again I think to myself: “I wonder how it really is with them right now?”
I want to be clear that I direct this question at myself just as much as anybody else – but how do we tell the story of 2022, or whatever year we just lived through?

Do we put our best face on? Do we put our best foot forward, only showing the parts that are suitable for public consumption?

Or do we tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
Do we offer a highly polished version of the story or can we allow ourselves to be real?
If Matthew has anything to say about it, he would say “tell it the way it is – warts and all. Be.Real.”

Christmas magic is strange and wonderful and we have to lean into the words that old skin horse spoke to the Veleveteen rabbit.

“By the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are real you cannot be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

You can in fact tell a more accurate version of your story…the times when you felt so lost that you couldn’t tell which end was up; the moments when you made a mistake and the consequences were serious; the times when you felt stretched to the back of beyond and simply fell apart. You can tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

It might very well hurt, but it doesn’t matter, because now you understand that Jesus loves you, and has loved you, for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you. That’s when, at long last, you become real.