A sermon preached at
Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 29 December
2013 by Pearl Wong. The scripture readings that day were Psalm 148; Isaiah 63:7–9 and Matthew 2:13–23.
Almighty God, you have
poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light,
enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ who
lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God. May the
words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
If the book of Matthew were
a contemporary novel or present-day film, then the plot development in chapter
2 greatly contributes to it being a best seller or a smash hit. I say this
because when I took an elective course in Film and Literature, it teaches us
the important elements of successful storytelling, and I learn that a plot must
consist of a dramatic conflict.
Dramatic conflict can mean struggle between characters, or a character's
struggle against society, against other larger forces, or even against something
inside herself or himself, for example, feelings, emotions, illness.
So let us now revisit
chapter 2 including one of today's Scripture reading Matthew chapter 2:13-23
and see how that dramatic conflict
develops and how it affects the main characters in this chapter.
To King Herod, what the
wise men tells him is bad news because he feels that his position as king is
threatened by the birth of Jesus. King Herod is frightened that he might lose his
power and everything he owns. Because of King Herod's struggle against his own
fear, he orders to kill all the children in and around Bethlehem who are two years old and under. Herod's
struggle has put Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus in danger, suddenly something
unexpected happens in their lives but Joseph and Mary didn't see this coming.
Verse 11 tells us that the wise men kneels down before baby Jesus and Mary, and
offer them treasures, gold and luxury items. Can you imagine how Joseph and
Mary must have felt? I would say they were filled with joy, and hope, and
probably thought they could live a comfortable and secure life. But this is not
what happens next. From verse 13 onward, we learn that this family, after
receiving the warning from an angel, has to leave everything behind, run for
their lives, and embark on a journey filled with uncertainty, worry and
anxiety. This family is disoriented not just once but twice. After Joseph, Mary
and baby Jesus have escaped from the danger of King Herod's order and just when
Joseph thought that he could settle down to begin a new life, the angel appears
suddenly and tells him to leave his comfort zone and get on with his journey,
again Joseph is overwhelmed by uncertainty and anxiety. Joseph is afraid that his
journey into the future brings him and his family nothing but risks and even
Let us recap how the
dramatic conflicts affect the main characters in Mathew's chapter 2. When
something unexpected happens in the lives of King Herod and Joseph, they are in
a helpless situation that causes disorientation. Both struggle against their
own fears and both feel that their lives are being threatened, their present as
well as their future represent uncertainty, anxiety and danger. Do we see
something similar between the reactions of these characters in the Gospel
Matthew and ourselves WHEN SOMETHING UNEXPECTED HAPPENS IN OUR LIVES? Can we
relate to the personal struggles against something inside the main characters,
and their reaction to the helpless situation? When we are in a similar helpless
situation, how do we deal with our own helplessness? Do we not question where
is God in this? Does God know what I am going through?
We can try to answer these
questions ourselves by reflecting on three aspects of God - the role of God
in our lives, the meaning of God's name, and God's relationship with us.
First, we recognize the
role of God in our lives by remembering God's promises to us through Jesus
Christ, and his teachings as manifested in the Gospels. In Matthew 2: 13-23,
God sends an angel to Joseph and his family to deliver them from adversities
not just once but repeatedly, and God is their journey partner wherever they go
and whatever situation they encounter on their way. God is the faithful journey
partner who will not leave us.
We also remember the
narrative of the wise men looking for baby Jesus in Matthew chapter 2. The
Christmas message is about childlikeness - the quality of being childlike. In
Mark 10:15, Jesus tells us clearly that," Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child will never enter
it." In our relationship with God, God desires us to return to the
trusting simplicity of a child. The child trusts that the parent will walk hand
in hand with her or him, and lead the way where he or she needs to go. The
child also has faith in God the parent who will protect, feed and shelter him
unexpected happens in our lives, we can also refer to Jesus' teaching on how we
should respond, and Christ's assurance that he will be there for us. In Matthew
6:25, Jesus tells us not to worry and not to be anxious about our life. We are
almost certain that our lives will not be worry-free or problem-free, however,
we are certain that Christ who has experienced extreme suffering on the cross,
died and resurrected to life, surely understands our sufferings and distress.
Jesus' own suffering makes him our partner in suffering, he suffers along with
us. Most importantly, Christ's resurrection symbolizes the overcoming of
suffering for us and the overcoming of the power of death. This is a powerful
promise from Christ our redeemer.
Second, the meaning of
God's divine name and its promise to us. All of us would be familiar with the story
of Moses at the burning bush and God's divine name revealed in Exodus chapter
3. When Moses asks God what is God's name, God answers, I AM WHO I AM. The
divine name, I AM WHO I AM, reveals God's intention to be present with Israel. God
told Moses that God has seen the misery of the people, has heard their cry of
injustice, and God also knows their sufferings, and God promises to deliver
them out of their struggles. When God appears to Moses in the form of a burning
bush, God brings Godself to the same level of a human being. This means God
puts Godself in our shoes, by doing that, God understands what we are going
through. Going back to Mathew chapter 1:22-23, Jesus is named
"Immanuel" and Immanuel means "God is with us." God who becomes
flesh through Jesus Christ to live among us, and now through the Holy Spirit is
always with us no matter where we are and whatever we go through.
Finally, we affirm God's
relationship with us by contemplating on our personal experiences and recall
the times when God is with us. I recall my own experience of
a loving and caring God who walks closely with me during my father's illness
and my grief over his death.
About six years ago, after a long and tough career and only one year into his retirement, my
father was diagnosed with cancer and passed away within two years. I suffered
inconsolable grief over the loss of my father whom I consider the kindest and
most selfless person I ever knew. Recognizing where God
is in the midst of my suffering is more important than searching for an answer
to the cause of suffering. Theological reflections and life experiences may
give explanation to some causes of human sufferings but still fall short of
providing answers to every form of suffering.
Our experience plays a major part in assuring that our theological
reflections are not just purely cognitive and irrelevant to life situations.
Our lived experiences of God’s mercy, the comforting presence of the Holy
Spirit, and the life giving spirit that is promised to us through Christ will
help us overcome crisis and suffering. I experience God’s presence with my
family during my father’s illness. God has shown God's remarkable love for me
through my father’s love. I was able to share the comfort I received from God
with my family and God’s strength sustained us throughout that difficult
period. Although my father did not recover from his illness miraculously, God journeys
with me in overcoming my grief, and my acceptance of the totality of life
experiences that includes death and dying.
Our critical reflection has no guarantee that everything will make sense
to us, especially on suffering; rather, our reflection affirms that God is our
faithful partner in our ongoing journey that exemplifies faith seeking
understanding. In our relationship with God, we need to recognize that we are
in equal partnership, by that I mean, we have to respond to God as a trusting partner and
hold out our hands to receive God's grace.
I have just shared with
you what we can do when something unexpected happens in our lives. We try to
remember the three aspects of God.
First, God plays the
role of the faithful journey partner who will never leave us. Christ's
resurrection symbolizes the overcoming of suffering for us, and the overcoming
of the power of death. This is a powerful promise from Christ our redeemer.
Second, God's divine
name means "God is with us." God sees our miseries, hears our cry of
injustice, and promises to deliver us from our struggles.
Third is God's
relationship with us. Our personal experiences affirm that we are in a trusting
relationship with God who promises through Christ that God
will help us overcome crisis and suffering.
Three more days and we will say goodbye to 2013. The coming of 2014
symbolizes new beginning. Let us reflect on our life situations and try a
different prayer for ourselves, others and the world. May we not only pray for
God to grant us good days, joy, prosperity, but also pray that God to be with
us, deliver us from all trials, comfort us, empower us to overcome our
Most importantly, pray that we care for those who have less, and help
others to overcome their struggles.
I will conclude by reading a prayer called "Hold My Hand" by
the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1913.
I invite you to meditate on the words as I read.
Deliver me from my own shadows, O God,
from the wreck and confusion of my days,
for the night is dark and your pilgrim is blinded.
Touch with your flame the lightless lamp of my sorrow.
Waken my tired strength from its sleep.
Do not let me linger behind, counting my losses.
Let the road sing to me of the house at every step.
For the night is dark, and your pilgrim is blinded.