On Sunday December 29th I led worship at Kearby Chapel at 3pm. It is a small country chapel which is difficult to locate; I always set off in good time to make sure I can find it; then I could relax. We began worship with the carol ‘O little town of Bethlehem,’ before the opening prayers. We then read Psalm 148 responsively. I read a passage about the early life of Christ, refugee and his passion, ‘Christ from Heaven’s glory come;’ it is an invitation to Christ to enter our lives too. We then sang ‘It came upon a midnight clear.’ I then read Isaiah 63v1-9 and a member of the congregation read ‘Hebrews 2v10-18’. We then sang ‘Let earth and heaven combine, Angels and men agree.’ Another member read Matthew 2v13-23.
I then preached the sermon. In the ancient world people believed that God spoke to people through dreams so it was natural that Joseph had been warned by God in a dream to flee to Egypt to escape from the murderous Herod. Egypt was the place of refuge for Jews as many already lived there. Joseph was obedient to the dream and fled with Mary and Jesus. The dramatic rescue of the holy child Jesus reminded Matthew’s readers of the rescue of Moses from the edict of Pharaoh to kill baby Hebrew boys at birth and the subsequent massacre of all baby boys 2 years. Josephus the historian did not specifically mention the massacre of the baby boys in Bethlehem but described many ferocities of King Herod, which would confirm such acts of violence.
The writer to the Hebrews explained how Jesus was the great pioneer opening the way to God for believers. Jesus had not been exempt from the suffering faced by the faithful and only becoming one of them, had he been able to help those being tested. Isaiah had reminded the people of Israel that it was God’s very presence with them that saved them from slavery. Finally it was safe for Joseph, Jesus and Mary to return from Egypt, which fulfilled the prophecy that God would call his son out of Egypt; but they moved to Nazareth in Galilee, rather than returning to Bethlehem, as the ruler in Judah was as ruthless and reckless as his father had been, but the ruler of Galilee, Antipas was a better king. In that way Matthew could use the Old Testament quotation about that he would be called a Nazarene.
There were three main festivals in Judaism, Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, which required pilgrimage to Jerusalem and at each provision was made for the poor. Yet most people think of themselves at Christmas rather than of the poor and the challenge of Christmas is to put others before ourselves; the work of Christmas is to find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, and bring peace among the nations. Jesus became one of us to live among us to save the lost and we are called to continue that purpose of sharing Jesus love and acceptance with the needy. Do we really try to make a difference in the world and stand up for justice and peace? Help us to recognise our need of God and lead others to that recognition and acceptance. After the sermon we sang ‘Cradled in a manger meanly laid the Son of man his head,’ then I led the intercessions. Worship concluded as we sang, ‘Hark! The herald-angels sing glory to the new-born king.’