St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-24-2016

St. Matthew’s Sermon 12-24-2016

Christmas Eve

“Not of this World”

Matthew 1:18-2:12

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

The first 17 verses of Matthew’s Gospel are an account of Jesus’ genealogy; tracing his ancestry all the way back to Abraham thus proving Jesus to be a descendant of Abraham, and a descendant of King David, and a descendant of, as the author words it, “ Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born…”

Right after the account of genealogy, in the first part of this evening’s reading, comes the story of Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit that excludes Joseph as his biological father. We hear that Joseph, not wanting to disgrace Mary publically, was going to “dismiss her quietly” but has his mind changed by the vision of an angel in his dream and he marries her.

This is followed by the story of the astrologers who have seen a special star appear; identify it as the sign of the birth of a new king; and come searching for this very important child. Herod feels threatened; calls the top leaders of the temple together to figure out where the child may be; and they determine he should be found in Bethlehem.

The men then go; find Jesus and Mary; and give their gifts of earthly wealth, befitting a king, to the new-born “king” of the Jews. Then they, too, are warned in a dream to not tell Herod where they found him; and return to their own country by another route.

We’ve all heard the story so many times and, as a part of this wonder-filled season, it brings us so much joy every time we hear it again! It’s no surprise that it’s one of our favorite stories with so much hope, comfort, and joy packed into only a little less than 2 dozen verses! Over the years it has become a part of our Christmas Hymns and traditional carols; and we read it at least every other Christmas unless we blend it into Luke’s version of the nativity, in which case we could hear it every Christmas!

It is a wonderful story, I surely don’t want to take anything away from that fact, but imagine, if you will, my dilemma in trying to say something original about it tonight assuming that you have already heard as many sermons on the text as half the number of your years. What can I say that you haven’t already heard or, better still, felt within yourself.

But then, I began to notice something that I hadn’t seen before and I wondered if, perhaps, you never heard it before. What I found is that these few verses are full of conflict and contradiction!

Now that might not sound “joyful” to you but hear me out…

Matthew begins with Jesus’ genealogy, the mostly human constructed way of determining inheritance, including the inheritance of kingdoms. But right away he goes into the conception by the Holy Spirit, telling us that Joseph is, in fact, not Jesus’ father; a surrogate perhaps, adoptive father at best; so this, in effect, nullifies all of the preceding heritage. Conflict and contradiction.

By God’s Law, Joseph could have had Mary stoned but he was a little above that, yet he was going to break off the engagement until God intervened. Conflict and contradiction.

Then the astrologers arrive. Now what is astrology doing in the account of the Holy birth? Any good Jew should know that astrology is nonsense. That can be found in a number of scriptures, not the least of which is from Isaiah 47: that tells us of God’s frustration with such things saying…

You are wearied with your many consultations; let those who study  the heavens stand up and save you, those who gaze at the stars, and at each new moon predict what  shall befall you.  See, they are like stubble, the fire consumes them; they cannot [even save] themselves…

Yet, even the foreign, star watching diviner magi are warned by God and they change their plan leaving Herod, the earthly king of Judea, in the dark.  Conflict and contradiction.


Jesus will address these issues himself later in his life and ministry. With the opening to the story, we might expect the rest of Matthew’s account to be about Jesus the son of Joseph; an official heir to the throne of David; a successor, an inheritor by lineage, of the rule of the earthly kingdom of Judea. But of genealogy Jesus tells us, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”

We almost had it right but Jesus is not a “King” of this world.

The Magi saw a special star and took it as a sign of the birth of the new “King of the Jews”. But of signs Jesus later says, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet…”

The magi almost had it right; they saw a sign but failed at interpreting who Jesus really was.

And a little later, when Jesus is preaching in his home town, the people say, in disbelief of his divinity, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary…?”

They, too, failed to see who Jesus really was.

Jesus didn’t come as a worldly king to threaten Herod’s position. The star in the east didn’t announce the birth of the king of the Jews. And Jesus’ lineage isn’t of this world. And that’s where the joy is found in the conflict and contradiction!

Jesus isn’t of this world; he is the divine entering this world! And this is what Matthew wants us to see in the story; the birth of the Christ is where the other worldly and our world meet! The conflict between our ways and God’s ways are now face to face and the contradiction between the earthly and the heavenly is annihilated, the door is now open for the earthly to meet the Holy!

In this most joyful, most wonder-full night, open your hearts once again to receive the gift of Emanuel; God with us; God’s world coming to our world; heaven on earth!



1:18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.


2:1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men a from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

    7 Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. 8 Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” 9 When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.