**sermon art: “The Flight Into Egypt” by Carl Dixon (b. 1960), mixed media on sculpted wood panel. African-American wood-carving rooted in traditional West African folk art. http://sacredartpilgrim.com/collection/view/50
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on January 1, 2023
[sermon begins after Bible reading – check this one out, it’s infrequently read in the church calendar and has an alternate set of readings for the day so it’s not often heard]
Matthew 2:13-23 Now after [the wise men] 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.” 14Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15and 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.”
16When 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. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18“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.”
19When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20“Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
Happy New Year, friends. Today is quite a mash up. Like Christmas Day last week, New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday AND takes in annual place within the 12 Days of Christmas. I’ve been looking forward to today. The Bible readings give us a chance to tease apart the freshly minted 2023 and the urge for a fresh start in the echoes of Auld Lang Syne. Auld Lang Syne means “the good old days,” filtering the past through rose-colored light, softening hard edges with hazy nostalgia. Out of that haze comes the instinct to dust off the past and polish ourselves into new-and-improved versions of self with new year resolutions. The power of this instinct to re-make, re-do, and re-new, makes the good news of the manger that much more needed – the good news that God slips on skin in solidarity with our fragile humanity and reminds us that there is nothing we can do or not do to make God love us any more or any less. God’s love is the good news that unfilters the past and frees us to untangle the good, the bad, and the ugly and to tell the truth about it. Good news that rejects shame and inspires curiosity as a breath of fresh air in a fresh calendar year.
I find myself doing a lot of breathing these days. So much so that “breathe” is the word that I chose in Advent to guide my prayer during the church year. Still recovering from shoulder capsule surgery last fall, my stretching exercises include repetitions of each stretch, twice through the series. I breathe in, stretch, hold that stretch while slowly breathing out, counting 1…2…3…4…5 – 2…2…3…4…5 – 3…2…3…4…5…and so on. That’s A LOT of breathing. My shoulder reminds me that last year’s reality isn’t automatically re-booted by the new calendar. Maybe you have a reminder of your own – a reminder of body, mind, or spirit – that last year isn’t magically re-booted too.
Today’s Bible readings are also a reminder that as much as the world changed with the birth of Jesus, his birth didn’t re-boot the world. There was still the abuse of power by leaders who would have their own way regardless of the human cost. King Herod’s fragile ego and furious response to the wise men’s diversion was beyond the pale. The wise men didn’t let Herod know that they’d found the child Jesus in Bethlehem. After depositing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh with the Holy Family, they’d been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so the wise men returned home on a different road. Learning of their deception, Herod lashed out and “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men. The Holy Family’s escape to Egypt didn’t erase the fear and pain of the families trapped in Bethlehem – their agony and grief echoed in past generations by Rachel’s weeping for the slaughter of other innocents centuries before. Their grief echoes between the sound of silent night and an old rugged cross – God suffering with them in pain and despair.
Herod’s anger is easy to distance ourselves from. His power is incomprehensible as is his slaughter of the innocents, the babies of Bethlehem. But this Bible reading opens a path to examine our own anger, and the regret of actions taken in anger, that invites curiosity, confession, and making amends however inadequate those amends may be in the face of individual and collective grief. I read recently that anger is really just grief with some energy behind it. I suppose we could say that Herod was grieved by a threat to his power. Grief goes hand-in-hand with loss. Losses pile up in situations beyond our control.
Loss comes with changes of all kinds. Herod reacted in anger when his power was threatened by Jesus’ birth. His power was further threatened when the wise men ignored his command and went home by a different road. His anger led to violence. Our anger can lead to violence too. Even our anger with ourselves can lead to violence against ourselves in the form of shame, self-harm, addiction, and more. Most of us can’t imagine Herod’s power. But we can see how anger spirals out of control in our own lives, hurting partners, children, or co-workers with words and actions borne out of anger. We can get curious and ask for help with our anger, figuring out how to move from breathing and counting to quiet anger, into healing from what lies beneath the anger. It’s hard to see through the haze of Auld Lang Syne. It’s even harder to confess that the good old days weren’t that good. But one promise of the Christ-child in a manger is that our personal Herodian holier-than-thou violence is not our whole story because God loves us just that much.
The Bible story also invites our thinking about the Holy Family on the run to Egypt, the Holy Innocents who didn’t survive Herod’s death sentence, and how we work with people fleeing the violence of conflict, persecution, poverty, and climate crises – including how we hold ourselves accountable as the church, and our local and national governments accountable, for impacting and solving these humanitarian crises. Both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible preach about caring for the stranger and neighbor. Part of caring for strangers is acting in hope and faith whether or not we agree about the causes of mass migration and even if the outcome is unknown.
Last year, and not for the first time in Augustana’s history, our congregation formed a team of people to work with refugees connected with Lutheran Family Services. We have two teams of people led by Amy, Gerd, and Josie, who went through the training and a few folks are waiting on their background checks. One of our Refugee Support Teams just welcomed a Kurdish Syrian family to Denver and is working with them on getting settled. Ways to help this family, and also ways to help the South American migrants who arrived recently in Denver, are in the weekly Epistle emails and your worship announcement bulletin. The scale of human need can be overwhelming. As with all of our work with our neighbors, all of us can’t do everything but some of us can do one thing. The hope of the manger is partly revealed in the action of the church, the risen body of Christ whose humble beginnings in a manger echo through us all.
I recently spoke with someone who feels fortunate to have had a long life with her faith at the center of it. As we were talking about her last days and weeks, she told me that she had an experience years ago in which her anger just disappeared. She ordinarily would have been angry but she wasn’t. The absence of anger in that situation allowed her to tend to herself and other people in the situation differently than she ordinarily would have. While the story was riveting, what caught my attention most was the very last part when she said, “And you know pastor, it was fun!” Apparently, it’s fun not to get angry and see what happens. I wouldn’t know. For me, it goes back to breathing while anger wanes – breathe in, hold breath, slowly breathing out, hold, 1…2…3…4…5 – 2…2…3…4…5 – 3…2…3…4…5… Breathing through anger is a different set of stretching exercises. Getting it down to the point of fun? Now that would be a game changer, maybe even a world changer.
As we live and breathe, 2023 is upon us. It feels hard to believe. What I do believe is that by the power of God’s Spirit, each new day that we’re alive is an opportunity to cling to God’s promises of faith, hope, and love with our very fragile bodies, and is a fresh chance to shower the people around us with faith, hope, and love. While the promise of the manger, of Emmanuel – God with us, does not remove anger and the abuse of power from our world, its light gives us hope.
Hope that our own anger and frustration won’t perpetuate violent words and deeds against ourselves, family, neighbors, and strangers.
Hope that empowers us into action with our neighbors who may also be strangers.
Hope that shifts us from anger into the fun of peace. And ultimately the hope that God meets us where we are, as we are, and calls us beloved.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and amen.
 Literal translation from the Scottish “auld lang syne” is “times long ago” which in common usage means “good old times.” https://www.merriam webster.com/dictionary/auld%20lang%20syne
 Give a listen to this beautiful take on the old song by Ryan Ahlwardt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxQTxn-R1gY
 Matthew 2:1-12
 Mathew 2:16
 This is a good article that includes Biblical references about the Judeo-Christian perspectives of “aliens” and “strangers.” Yonathan Moya. January 21, 2020. www.borderperspective.org/blog/what-does-the-bible-say-about-welcoming-immigrants
 Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Matthew 25:35, Luke 10:27, Romans 12:13, Ephesians 2:19. Also, Biblical characters who were migrant refugees: Abraham & Sarah, Hagar, David, Jesus, Aquila and Pricilla.