I don’t know if it was the moon, the tides, or just life, but this past week was challenging. Not good, not bad, just challenging. The week between Christmas and New Year’s I had planned to relax, visit our shut-ins, spend an extra afternoon or so with Chris. But then life happened, as it does. I had one funeral lined up before Jeanne Rogis died. So this past week brought me 2 funerals. One of those funerals was for a baby from Camanche. If I ever have to do that again it will be too soon. Then Jeanne’s funeral. Then a wedding rehearsal on Friday with the wedding last night (which was awesome, by the way) and service this morning. God and I have spent more time together this week than usual. On top of this, I wanted to prepare to leave for vacation, the house is chaotic with the siding and windows work, and I am worried about a dear family member dealing with some heart issues. And if I am going to be honest with all of you, which I totally believe in doing, I am exhausted. I have poured more out of myself than I have put in. I joked earlier that I felt like God was making me earn my vacation.
Maybe you can understand, then, why the last thing I really wanted to do was to preach on the slaughter of the innocents (at this text from Matthew is often called). I read it over like 27 times trying to make it magically turn into rainbows and unicorns. No such luck. I should know by now that God doesn’t work like that. The more I tried not to think about this reading, the more I thought about it. I didn’t want to talk about the bloodshed, violence, and graphic nature of today’s reading. I especially didn’t want to talk about it because it is still Christmas, after all. Yes, despite what the retail stores are trying to sell you in regards to Valentine’s Day, it is still Christmas. I want to hear more about the infant Jesus. I want to hear about the manger, the animals, Joseph still in disbelief, and Mary a little unsure of her place now after giving birth to a savior. I want to hear about that.
But instead we get this terrible story about Herod killing innocent children. Herod, who was a supposed King of the Jews acted like anything but. For some reason he felt like his legacy, his work, maybe even his title and thrown, were at risk or under attack by an infant Jesus. I’m not an expert in infants, but I’ve never seen one overthrow a kingdom yet. Nonetheless, Herod was frightened. Of course, being a king he wasn’t going to admit that, but he was outright scared. This should start to give us a picture of the power of Jesus. If Herod wanted him dead even as an infant, Jesus’ powers and what he might accomplish in his lifetime we already putting fear into people.
In an act of what can only be called tyrannical rage, Herod demanded that all children under the age of 2 be killed. One has to wonder if our world leaders could be or would be set off so easily. Just let that set in for a moment. Herod felt so threatened by the infant Jesus that he demanded that all children be killed. That’s like setting your entire house on fire in order to cook a casserole. And in a great time of uncertainty, God protected Jesus. While the loss of the innocent lives was overwhelmingly cruel, God provided for and protected the messiah. Maybe then it’s not too much for us to believe that in uncertain circumstances God protects us too.
With the arrival of a new year, many of you might make resolutions or promises for a better 2017. Unfortunately, with the turning of the calendar, the dropping of the ball, and the start of a new day and month, our problems do not automatically disappear. Wouldn’t that be just wonderful if it worked that way? Some of you still struggle with health. Some of you still struggle financially. Some of you still struggle with your family or friends. All of us, in one way or another, struggle. That didn’t go away from 2016 to 2017. For some, the arrival of a new year may actually cue the anxiety to increase. With the election of Mr. Trump what happens to the affordable care act? How will the markets react with his presidency? What laws will a republican congress and senate pass that will affect me?
Maybe the arrival of 2017 causes your anxiety to increase for good reason. Maybe you’re expecting the addition of a little one to your family. Maybe you’re sending your “baby” off to college. Maybe you yourself are thinking about a job switch or even retirement. The life of the church and our future ahead is even a little uncertain (but in good way). We added 30 new members in 2016. What will this year bring? What and who will we need to make room for in our pews, hearts, and Sunday School rooms this next year? Through all these changes, God moves and acts to protect us.
And I understand that in some situations it can feel like God has just outright forgotten you. If you were to be told that God is acting for you and protecting you during a time of great struggle and stress, you have every right to doubt that. It usually isn’t until a time of great peril is over that we realize how and where God was acting and protecting us. And the beauty of this protection and love offered to us from God isn’t something we need to or even have to acknowledge in order to receive it. In the midst of crisis, it’s perfectly okay to doubt that God even knows you’re still alive. God’s faithfulness to us does not depend on our faithfulness to God. (say this again)
God created you. God created me. God created all of us. We are made in God’s image. God loves us and would never let us walk through the fire and abandon us. God protects us and would never go through waters and drown. Even in the times of great struggle, God protects us and is with us. In the times of great triumph, God protects us and is with us. In our every day lives, God protects us and is with us. I’m not advocating that you be happy 100% of the time no matter what. Brothers and sisters, what I am advocating is that you trust God’s presence in your life is very real, even if you can’t feel it. I am asking you to trust that God is protecting you, even if it feels like you are in the middle of a storm. God has not abandoned you yet and God certainly isn’t going to start now.