This is an adapted form of my sermon from Sunday, January 1, 2017, the First Sunday of Christmas. The gospel reading was Matthew 2:13-23, the flight to Egypt and the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. That morning, I also baptized two young children. I’ve changed their names for this blog version of the sermon.
Well. Thank goodness that’s over. And by “that,” I mean the year 2016. It was a rough one. From David Bowie to Carrie Fisher, it seems like there were about 50,000 celebrity deaths last year. We had the most painful and heart-wrenching presidential election in memory. And so many mass shootings and terrorist attacks around the world, from Orlando to Dallas to Brussels to Berlin. The images from Aleppo, Syria were nothing short of heartbreaking. It felt good to put that year to bed last night.
Peter and Luke, you’re only a few months old. 2016 was the only year you knew until this morning. Let me assure you, they’re not all like that. Some years are better. And I think all of us in this room are hopeful that the year that begins today is a good one.
But you know what? It wasn’t all bad. In fact, Peter and Luke, I bet that when your mother looks back and thinks about the year 2016, the thing she’ll remember most, the thing that will eclipse everything else, will be you. Because 2016 was the year you arrived. And you have brought such hope, and peace, and love to the people who love you. It’s really quite remarkable what a new child can do. Even in a year so full of suffering, you have brought light and life to those around you. Thank God for you, Peter. Thank God for you, Luke. You are truly blessings in a world that needs it.
And that kind of reminds me of today’s gospel story. It’s a rough one. One we might not be in the mood to hear right now. After all, in the church we’re still in the season of Christmas. Just last week, we heard again the story of how Jesus was born in Bethlehem, how angels sang his praises, and shepherds came to worship him. What a joyous night! And now today, the story has turned very dark. Jesus is still an infant, but the story isn’t about angels and shepherds anymore. Now it’s about a king who is scared of Jesus, a king whose fear leads him to murder. It’s hard to hear. Now Jesus himself is protected. Joseph listens to the angel who speaks to him in a dream, and he takes Jesus away to Egypt. But so many others are not protected. So many other children are killed. It’s tragic, and so very sad.
Why would this be assigned as the reading on the First Sunday of Christmas? More to the point, why would Matthew even include this story in his gospel? And even more to the point, why did this even happen? Why would God allow this to happen?
That’s a good question. A very good question. For thousands of years, people have asked, “Why does God allow suffering to happen?” You might ask that yourselves as you grow older.
And the only response I can give is this: suffering happens. It just does. God doesn’t prevent it. Peter and Luke, as you grow up you’ll discover that. You’ll learn that suffering is a part of life.
And I think that Matthew included this story here because he recognized that. Matthew wasn’t afraid to show that Jesus came into a world full of suffering, that he was born into it. Matthew wasn’t trying to make us feel bad…he was trying to be honest. The world contained suffering. In fact, the whole reason Jesus came was because there was suffering, because God loved us. Why didn’t God choose to show his love by removing our suffering? Maybe we’ll never know the answer to that. But what we do believe is that God showed his love by sending Jesus into our world to be with us, to dwell with us, to shine light in the darkness of our lives. To give us the strength to endure, and the ability to find hope and joy amid anything.
And that, Peter and Luke, is really good news. Because we can count on that. We can hope that 2017 will bring us health and happiness, but we can’t count on that. Anything can happen. But what we can count on is that God will be with us, no matter what happens. No matter what.
Because God promises that. And that is why you’re here today. That’s what your baptism is all about. Today, through water and God’s Word, God promises to be with you for life. God promises to wash you clean from your sin, and free you from the power of death. And that means that you will be able to endure whatever this world has in store.
In your baptism, God also promises to join you to the death and resurrection of Jesus, which means that he lives within you and you live within him. His death and resurrection was God’s plan for redeeming and saving the world, and so your baptism means that you’re now part of that plan too. It means that God has a plan for you, and that as you grow, God will use your hands and your voices to do God’s work. It means that you will help others endure whatever the world has in store.
Your baptism means that you will never be alone, and that you will have the ability to help others never feel alone.
And so, I wish you both a very happy New Year. Whatever this year may bring, Peter and Luke, whether joy or pain, happiness or sadness, you will be able to stand tall. Well, once you learn to stand anyway. But you’ll be able to metaphorically stand tall, because God is with you. And you will be able to help others stand tall, because Jesus is here. And he’s here in you.
Welcome to Baptism!
Featured image By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons