The Sunday after Christmas, 12/26/04, Year A

“Knowing When to Run”
Matthew 2: 13-23

oday we continue the Christmas season with a look at the flight into Egypt . When I mentioned this topic to a friend he asked if Joseph and Mary chose to fly Delta or AirTran. Someone else chimed in and commented, “Did that not appear to be the coward's way out? Why did they not stay and fight?” Well, sometimes it's better to flee. We usually need to step back from a volatile situation. Usually, the mature response to confrontation is to turn the other cheek.

Or, as Kenny Rogers, who lives on a giant estate somewhere east of Atlanta, said in his song, “The Gambler,” which was later made into a movie and TV mini series, “You've got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away and know when to run .”

Joseph knew that it was time to run, or escape to Egypt because the Lord sent and angel to him in a dream to instruct him to flee to Egypt with his little family where they would be safe until Herod the Great was dead. There were small communities of Jews living in Egypt , most from the great Egyptian Captivity of Old Testament times.

Some of you commute daily to Atlanta in some of the worst traffic in America . You have learned to drive defensively, and most of all to avoid those prone to road rage along I-20. There are some nuts out there! Someone said that driving in Atlanta might be our greatest help toward sanctification. And, “if we can keep our heads while those about us are losing theirs and blaming it on us, we might be a true Christian after all.”

Joseph and Mary got out of town with their baby for a while to avoid the insane wrath of King Herod, who will forever be infamous for his slaughter of the innocents. Every boy child in Palestine under the age of two was pulled from his parents arms and killed. However, God had protected his Messiah. All of us have faced crazies with the “King Herod” complex. You can't win against them, and it is usually better to flee. Some folks have lived their entire lives in bitterness and only the power of God can change them, but they are usually mad at God too. Yet, with just ordinary mean people, insolate, angry, spoiled or arrogant, we can usually turn away wrath with a kind and soft answer.

Jesus' response toward the people arround the Cross was one of kindness: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

This part of the after Christmas story in today's text also illustrates the fact that God was working with and through the unpredictable freewill nature of many human beings to fulfill his desire to offer salvation to all people. Mary and Joseph did not have to say “yes” to the opportunity presented them by angels to fulfill God's plan. Just as any of us can, young Mary could have said NO! Joseph could have dismissed his dream. Herod could have mellowed, and indeed gone to worship the newborn King. But, responses by people are usually determined by prior life experiences, and Herod was on a fast track toward disaster. Sometimes folks spend their entire lives making the wrong decisions, following their lusts, passions and phobias. But others, like precious Mary and Joseph, are the kind of folks you can count on doing the right thing. God seems to always know who he can trust with a really big job. However, deep down the best of us realize that we can turn away from God's plan for our lives at any point.

Bishop Arthur J. Moore, the most important leader of the Methodist denomination in the ‘40's and ‘50's, and a Georgia native, would never allow any church or group to name anything after him until after he was dead. Many wanted to name churches, college buildings and missionary stations after the beloved bishop, but his response always was, “As long as I am alive I still can fall from grace, so wait until I am beyond my probation here on earth.”

Now we Methodists sometimes make backsliding too easy. I can't imagine a mature Christian like Arthur Moore falling, but we sometimes act like you can wake up with a “bad hair day” and have backslidden. No, it takes time. It is a long process to falling. Like falling out of love, sometimes married people's love and romance fades and dies before they realize what has happened. Sometimes their spiritual fall mirrors the death of their marriage. However, the Good News is that people can fall back in rediscovered love, and those who have slipped away from God can be reclaimed.

As we are making our New Year's resolutions this week we might keep spiritual disciplines at the top of the list. Whenever we draw closer to God, he will draw closer to us. Let us all seek a more noble self. To live a life that matters for our families, friends and everyone else is a worthy ambition. These are the things that keep relationship with the Little Boy Child of Bethlehem alive and vital and true.

We watched parts of the favorite Christmas movie on TV last night, “It's a Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart. It took a near death experience and a quirky angel, to allow him to realize how much good he had done for other people in his small hometown and just how great a life he had taken for granted.

We all must decide what kind of person we want to become? Is the big bully Herod our hero? Or, are we enamored with Joseph, Mary and the believing shepherds? Would you have been willing to make the long trip with the Wise Men to visit the Messiah, and present him with expensive gifts, which many believe were used to fund the Holy Family's long stay in Egypt ?

The New Year confronts us with choices and new possibilities. The entire Christmas story is designed to grab our hearts. What is our response to the call of Christ at the New Year? The New Year would be a good time to begin a New Life!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
The Sunday after Christmas, 12/26/04, Year A