Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Incarnational Ministry

Matthew 2:13-23 and Hebrews 2:10-18

 The Christmas story is a wonderful story.  It has a baby, and that goes a long way to making a lovely story.  But just how long does the beauty of the story last?  How long do we have to bask in the light of angelic choirs singing “Peace on earth?”  How long do we have to enjoy a silent night, holy night, when all is calm, and all is bright?  

 Not long.  Less than two years after the wondrous birth of Christ we find the horror of baby boys being slaughtered in Bethlehem.  

 When the magi came seeking Jesus they had little choice but to go through Jerusalem.  The only road through Bethlehem ran north and south, and to approach the town from the south meant making a really long and difficult detour around the southern end of the Dead Sea.  

So they had little choice but to run across King Herod, who was paranoid about any perceived threat to his power.  This was a king who murdered three of his own sons out of fear they were plotting against him.  Likewise, he saw Jesus as a threat.  Even though Jesus is only a baby at this point, he might be seen as a symbol of opposition, a renewed line of King David.  Just to be sure, Herod sends soldiers to kill every baby boy in Bethlehem under the age of two.  

Mary and Joseph are forced to take Jesus on a midnight flight to Egypt, which would have been a long and difficult journey.  Egypt had served as a place of refuge for the Hebrew people in the past.  When the Babylonians took many of the people of Judea captive, some fled to Egypt and established Jewish colonies there.  By the first century BC, some were quite large.  Eventually, Mary and Joseph return from Egypt, and out of fear of Herod’s son Archelaus, they settle back in Nazareth in Galilee.  

When God became flesh and stepped into the pages of history, he stepped into real history, not white-washed history.  Real history is full of hatred, fear, and violence.  

The author of Hebrews says, “Because we are human beings – made of flesh and blood – Jesus also became flesh and blood.”  To become flesh is to suffer.  Flesh suffers from illness, injury, pain, loss, and eventually, death.  It was only by becoming flesh that Jesus could die.  And only by dying could he break the power of Satan, who held the power of death.  Only in this way could Christ break the power of death and deliver those who live their lives as slaves to the fear of death.  

Death is the great unknown.  Apart from Christ, how can we ever have any certainty about death?  Is it the end?  Is there something after death?  How can we know?  Some people have claimed to have “life after death” experiences, but could that just be some last minute electrical impulses in the brain or something?  But if Jesus died and was dead and gone for three days, and then he came back to life, well, that would certainly be evidence that there is more.  We would have a reason not to be a slave to the fear of death anymore.  

The author of Hebrews says that by suffering and dying, Christ became a perfect, that is a complete, ARCHEGOS.  The Greek word ARCHEGOS could be translated as leader or author or pioneer.  Some have suggested trailblazer.  The idea is someone who goes where others have not gone to open up the way for them.  He leads so others can follow.  He blazes the trail for others.  He writes the book so others can know the way.  That’s the idea of the word.  Jesus is the trailblazer of a new humanity; the people of the resurrection, who no longer live as slaves to the fear of death.

Jesus is also our high priest, the author of Hebrews says.  A priest is an intermediary between God and human beings.  On the one hand, a priest represents the holiness of God.  But he is also a human being, so he knows the weakness and frailty of humanity and is able to empathize with human beings.  Jesus could only be that perfect high priest by becoming flesh and entering into all the brokenness of our world.  And in the midst of that brokenness, he is the light and love of God incarnate, in the flesh.  

Today is the first day of a new year, a day when people make resolutions.  I want us to resolve that in this new year, we will be the love and light of God in the flesh.  And we will enter into the brokenness of human lives and be the presence of God.  I think that’s what this Wesley Covenant Service is all about:  resolving to be the presence of God in the world.

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