Sunday, January 4, 2009

Second Sunday after Christmas Year B January 4 2008

Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

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." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and 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."

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "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." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But 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. There 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."

Sermon

“What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home?” This song written by Eric Bazilian and performed by Joan Osbourne was very popular in 1995, because it asks a question that expresses how the idea of God, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent makes most people feel distant from him. But I don’t think that Ms. Osbourne realized that, yes, God was once one of us, just like anyone you might meet.

In our gospel reading today, Matthew declares that the prophets spoke the words“He will be called a Nazorean.”

The problem is this: what words and which prophets? Because this phrase appears no where in the books that make up what we call the “Old Testament”. So why does Matthew say this?

To know what this means, you have to understand a bit of the history of Nazareth, the town where Joseph took his small family to settle after returning from Egypt. I found the following on a travel website for Israel:

While the site was settled during the period 600-900 BCE, it was too small to be included in the list of settlements of the tribe of Zebulon (Joshua 19:10-16), which mentions twelve towns and six villages. Nazareth is not included among the 45 cities of the Galilee that were mentioned by Josephus, and her name is missing from the 63 towns in Galilee mentioned in the Talmud.It seems that the words of Nathanel of Cana, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:47) characterized the site's seeming insignificance. It is needless to say that the people of Judea had never heard of Nazareth.

Nazareth, apparently, was synonymous with what we might call “Hicksville” in the US. It was nothing, nowhere. Pilate, when he ordered the cross to be labeled, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”, was pointing out the ridiculous nature of the idea of someone from Nazareth being a king.

So when Matthew says that the prophets said that Jesus would be Nazorean, is most likely referring to those prophecies that pointed out that Jesus would be despised and rejected by the people, such as this prophecy in the book of Isaiah:

He was despised and rejected by people,

one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness;

people hid their faces from him;

he was despised, and we considered him insignificant (Isaiah 53:3)

By saying that the prophets declared that Jesus would be a Nazorean, Matthew meant that the prophets said that Jesus would be nobody; nobody from nowhere. There was nothing about him that would make him stand out from a crowd. Isaiah said in the verse previous to this one, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Jesus was truly a nobody from nowhere.

It’s truly amazing that God would choose to send his son here in the guise of nobody from nowhere, isn’t it?

But God has a history of choosing those folks who would not have been voted “most likely to” by their peers. Paul understood this very well and wrote extensively about it in his letters to the Corinthians; in his first letter he wrote.:

27but (C)God has chosen the foolish things of (D)the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of (E)the world to shame the things which are strong,

28and the base things of (F)the world and the despised God has chosen, (G)the things that are not, so that He may (H)nullify the things that are,

And in his second letter:

7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God chooses weak vessels, “slobs” like us, so that his glory may shine all the more.

Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, also knew this secret. Once, when complimented by a friend on the impact of the mission, Hudson answered, “It seemed to me that God looked over the whole world to find a man who was weak enough to do His work, and when He at last found me, He said, ‘He is weak enough—he’ll do.’ All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them.”

So the next time we decide that we aren’t big enough to do the things that God is asking of us, we need to remember that not only does God choose weak people to do his work, but that he sent his son to us as a “nobody” from “nowhere”. God was once just “one of us”.