Today we study the passage from Matthew 2: 13-23 which reports on the flight of Joseph and his family from Bethlehem to Egypt and his later return to Nazareth in Galilee. It will be helpful if you have a copy of the passage in front of you before you listen to the recording. If you can’t lay your hands on one quickly, here is a link to an online Bible.
Sometimes, when we read this and similar passages, we get caught up in the events of the narrative and lose sight of the theological meaning that Matthew wove into the text. We read the scripture from our own, Gentile perspective, rather than from the perspective of Matthew’s audience – Jewish Christians, steeped in the Old Testament narrative and theology. In this sermon we peel back the layers to uncover some of the deeper messages that the original readers would have understood.
What we get from this is a deeper insight into Jesus as saviour and redeemer. At one level, the story is about the infant Jesus deliveredfrom a paranoid and violent ruler (Herod). At a deeper level, the story is about Jesus as the deliverer of humanity, the new Moses inaugurating a new Exodus, embodying the new and true Israel.
May Christ rise in your heart as you reflect further on the great miracle of God coming into the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the long awaited Messiah.
Today is the start of Advent, that season in which we reflect back on Christ’s entry into the world some two thousand years ago and anticipate his coming again, one day, in glory. Western Christians (in contrast to Eastern Orthodox Christians) have tended to reduce Advent to a celebration of Christmas – the birth of Jesus. But the incarnation properly starts at conception. Somehow – who knows how! – God spliced himself into Mary’s egg. The incarnation is a full blending of human and divine in the individual called Jesus. It is a profound mystery that I really cannot explain. But we assert that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. What we learn from the Orthodox tradition is that this is the central event in Christian history – that in the incarnation God changed the course of history forever – changing the genetic makeup of humanity and opening up a spiritual path that had til then been closed.
In this sermon I try to unpack this in terms of two central theologies:
The notion of kenosis, that God emptied himself in order to merge with Mary’s egg – emptied of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence – to be teeny tiny small; left the eternal and perfect union between Father, Son and Spirit in order to join with humanity; immersed himself into human experience with all its sorrows and joys. Kenosis is a profound and radical expression of God’s lovefor humanity. What else could prompt such an extravagant and risky venture?
The notion of theosis, that the chasm between God the uncreated and humans the created creatures was closed when God became human, thereby opening a path for humans to participate in the divine. That God would have incarnated even if humanity had not fallen. That the purpose for Jesus coming into the world was not merely to die on the cross, but to pioneer a path for humanity to reconcile with God. Theosis points us towards hope– hope for the future, hope for what God is able to achieve in us, hope for the coming transformation and restoration.
This is a rather cerebral sermon – be warned! It invites us to engage with ways of thinking about the incarnation that may be unfamiliar to us. Don’t feel obliged to agree with what I say – I myself am not sure about all of it! But engaging with different Christian perspectives can be deeply enriching. I do, however, assert that Love and Hope are key Advent themes, and hope that these reflections on kenosis and theosis may provide some food for thought to underpin these themes.
Oh, and it is World Aids Day today, so I attempt to make some links from all of this to the ongoing fight against HIV and Aids.