Message Manuscript of “Get Up and Go into 2014” Matthew 2:13-23
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
First Sunday after Christmas, December 29, 2013
What have you done with your Christmas tree? As I was driving down a street on Christmas Day, I saw a tree already out on the curb, defrocked of its ornaments and lights. I couldn’t believe someone was so ready to move on and put Christmas behind them so quickly. Maybe you didn’t take yours down quite that quickly, but it could be you have by now. Or, maybe you are one of those who has a tradition of keeping it up until New Year’s Day. I know a lady who just throws a trash bag over hers, decorations and all, and shoves it into a hall closet until the next year. Or, as I’ve seen before in some homes, you just leave it—along with the lights on your roof–up all year so as not to have to fool with it every year. I’m wondering if that just isn’t the best way to approach Christmas, to take it with us into the new year and keep it going all year long. More specifically, what we ought to take with us into the new year is the Christ of Christmas, carrying him with us, allowing God to guide us as we journey this year.
That’s what Joseph and Mary did with Jesus, as we have heard in our Gospel text today, Matthew 2:13-23. This is a text we may not read or think about much during Christmas. We tend to focus on what happened in the nativity scene, on what was going on that day with Joseph and Mary trying to find a delivery unit in town, on the shepherds and the angels, or on the star of Bethlehem. Some nativity scenes focus on the Wise Men/Magi, perhaps out of an inability to wait until Epiphany, where they belong in the story. It is not uncommon for us to skip—in our thoughts and/or even our church attendance—all the way to Easter without consideration of what happened in the months and years after Jesus was born. Our Scripture today, however, provides us with an opportunity to slow down a bit as we head into a new year. It draws us more deeply into the context into which Jesus was born, putting a spotlight on his parents and how God was working in their lives as they allowed God to lead them with Jesus into new places. Such a deeper draw enables us to reflect this morning on how we can learn from them about taking Jesus with us as God leads us on a journey this next year.
The first thing Matthew presents us with here in these verses is another one of Joseph’s dreams. In fact, there are two different dreams described here. We’ve already heard during Advent about the one he had that provided him with God’s message about Mary having a baby. He was obviously a man of dreams. Karl Jung would have had a hay day with psychoanalyzing Joseph and all of these dreams. The little we can know about Joseph is that he was a listener. He was a man sensitive to the voice of God, aware enough to discern when God was speaking. There isn’t any indication that he was too busy as a carpenter, too preoccupied with himself, too worried about his reputation, or too mature to listen when God was speaking. He was open, if not looking for, what God would say next. God had spoken before and things happened just as He had the angel say. He must have been in readiness mode; awaiting God’s next instruction.
What God had to say to Joseph and Mary was of utmost importance, as it related to what they were to do with Jesus. They observed enough about their child to know that he was no ordinary child. God had spoken to them before about what he would become; what he would do. Here, in this dream, God continues to speak, giving them instructions and guidance.
I’ve always liked the statement the United Churches of Christ use in their advertising, “God is Still Speaking.” They have used it on billboards, on the internet, and in their TV commercials. Their red comma says a lot, letting everyone know that God continues to speak to us, wherever we are and whoever we are.
How is your hearing these days? As you look back on this past year, what have you heard God saying? I can assure you that God has been saying some things to you. Maybe it has been through a dream. Or, it might have been while you were out taking a walk one day and God used something simple like a leaf or a sunset or a bird to deliver his message. I have even heard that God speaks to people while they are in the shower, although I’m still not sure about that one. If you don’t think God has been speaking to you, my guess is that you have been too busy to listen. I know that’s how it is with me when I get too busy, even doing good things, that I am too distracted too be in readiness mode for God’s messages. The real shame in our busyness is that we are missing out on some incredible messages from God. If you are like Joseph, you are ordinary, getting invited to do the extraordinary. What would have happened if Joseph hadn’t been listening? What will or won’t happen if you aren’t listening to God in 2014? This week is a great time for us to hear what God has to say about where we are and where He wants us to go.
God has great things to say to us, especially about Jesus. You can’t help but hear from God as you look at Jesus. You find that you, like Mary, continue to treasure all of what God has to say about him in your heart. You discover that Jesus is like no other person you’ve ever encountered. You learn that he is in fact not just a person, but a God-person, God in human skin. Having open ears like this means that you will pick up on what God is doing in the world; on what part you are to play as you take Jesus with you into places you’ve never been. You comprehend that not everyone is in favor of Jesus being in the world; that he represents a different kind of kingdom in this world, one that stands as a threat to existing kings and authorities. What you hear is that the Jesus who has come into your life can get you into a lot of trouble with the Herods of this world. But what God is doing through the arrival of Jesus in the world will outlast the Herods.
Listening, however, is not enough. If we really want to take Jesus into 2014, we need to put God’s words to us in action. Joseph heard from God and then “got up, . . . and went . . . He didn’t analyze what God had said. He didn’t procrastinate or dilly dally around any. He didn’t question God’s judgement or wisdom. What he did was to immediately put feet to God’s message and begin to do. He knew what God was calling him to do and he did it, even though it meant going to Egypt for a while. As we see at the end of our text, God would speak to him again while there, calling on him to come back home, which he did, all in God’s timing.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a great way of calling people to move from dreams to actions. He said,
“One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but on the other hand, we sadly practice the very antithesis of these principles. How often are our lives characterized by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anaemia of deeds!
Once you hear from God in whatever way you tend to hear best, know that you are only half-way done. God expects you to follow through, whether you know where you are going or not. He wants you to start stepping out into your assignment. All you need to do is take one step and see what happens. Take one step out into the unknown and see what becomes known. See that on the other side of that step is another one for you to take. All of those steps will get you right where God wants and needs you to be. God will do everything but take the steps for you.
What step will you take next? It could be to take a different job, teach a Sunday School class, deliver a Meals on Wheels route once a month, read to a child in the Lighthouse, forgive an enemy, start exercising, go back to school, serve a homeless veteran, speak at City Council, drive the van, or sign up to be an usher. God’s message for you may be to create a new ministry to bless a new group of people here in Highland or in our city. God’s next step for you could lead you into the Party Wagon to help with the months block parties we do around Highland.
Whatever it is, it will require you, like Joseph and Mary, to get up and go, with Jesus. If you get up and go and leave Jesus behind, then you have missed what God has given you to do. It may be easier and safer not to take Jesus with you as you go. But, don’t leave this year and step into the next without him. He is the central piece of what God plans to do in the world around you and in your life in this next year.
Whenever I think of places we can go if with Jesus, I can’t help but think of one of the great all time poems, Dr. Suess’ O The Places You Will Go,
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!”
And so I say to you, church, today is your day. God is still speaking. Your next adventure is waiting, so get on your way!
Audio version is here.