Sermon preached by the Rev. Patte Henderson, December 30, 2018
Matthew 2: 13-23; Isaiah 63: 7-9
It is with joy that I am able to be with you, not only in the sanctuary for the entire
service but also in the pulpit today. Since you are here, too, I assume this means
that you have survived your celebrations. I hope they were quite “merry and
In the Matthew text that I just shared, we find God’s servant Joseph once again
being visited by an angel of the Lord. and once again he is being told to go on a
journey, this time to save his newborn son from Herod’s wrath and reach. He
must once again leave the new country which he and Mary journeyed to at
the whim of a king, and this time flee to Egypt, a place he undoubtedly heard of
in Hebrew school as the evil place from which Moses saved God’s people.
Joseph’s reaction shows the brave courage and strength he mustered once again to obey God.
NOW Joseph knows that when an angel appears in his dreams, God is the source
of the message and Joseph need just to obey without question. Does he know the
direction in which Egypt lies? Does he know how long they must stay there?
Does he know the language and social mores of the Egyptian people so that his
family may fit in to the culture?
All Joseph knows is that he must save his wife and newborn son no matter what.
The apostle Paul says, “Be strong.” Paul says it to those who have received strength as he
himself received strength when the power of a new reality grasped him. Now some of us will
ask,”…what about those who feel that we have NOT received this ability, and that we don’t
have faith and courage and strength and love? We are wanting in all these, so that the
command “BE” by Paul is not said to us. Or if it is said to us we remain unconcerned or
become hostile toward him. We are not strong, so nobody should ask us to be strong! We are
weak. Shall we remain weak? Shall we fall into resignation, and become cynical about this
Theologian Paul Tillich goes on to say that more people than we can imagine feel this way,
especially younger generations and retirees. How can they be reached? There is no magical
formula in scripture that tells us how to BE STRONG. All we have are very normal characters
like Joseph, a carpenter in a small village in Judea, who, when visited in a dream by an angel
sent by God began to develop a strength he had no idea he had. And toward the end of the
birth story of Jesus. Joseph is once again asked to do a new thing.
Little does Joseph know that by his actions 3 predictions of the Old Testament
Prophets will be fulfilled. By going to Egypt, the prophet Hosea’s words will come
true: “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” But in the Hosean text it seems the
prophecy is more about the Hebrew people and the son spoken of being Moses, and refers to
the exodus from Egypt. This event weighs ever so much more in the history of our faith than
the story of one small family journeying home from a foreign land.
The second prophecy comes from Jeremiah; “ A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation. Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be
consoled, because they are no more.” While we can understand this referral to the mothers
of all children slain by King Herod, Jeremiah’s prophecies are known to be
in regard to the Hebrew people in captivity in Babylon. How odd that Matthew should refer to
this one in the story of the Christ child. We don’t hear many stories of weeping in the
scripture, perhaps the most poignant being the tears Jesus shed at the tomb of Lazarus late in
Then we have the third prophecy which comes from the Book of Judges, a text regarded by
some as an extension of the Torah, the documentation of the early history of the people of
God. The story of a “Nazirite” refers to God’s message to the mother of Samson, who was told
to not let her son’s hair be cut nor let her son drink wine or strong drink so that as a grown
man he would be an agent of God, a nazirite, when God’s people were Philistine captives.
It seems that these prophecies, remembered by Matthew in writing his gospel,
have been fulfilled , not only in the Old Testament but in the New Testament life of Jesus.
I wonder if these, and other prophecies, continue to be fulfilled even in our own time. Even
today we are called to be the children of God no matter where we call home.
Today families are persecuted for wanting a better life for their children, and there is loud
weeping for refugee children who die while in captivity, or who are shot by figures of authority
at very little provocation, by fellow Americans who supposedly value life.
Is it possible that these events might serve to give US strength to listen more attentively to
angels in our dreams who bring encouragement and direction for a path God is calling us to.
When the angel appears to let Joseph know that its safe to “go home”, he wonders where
“home “ is. He knew going home to Judea was a poor idea, the danger was still too real. The
angel told him to go to the area called Galilee, so he and Mary set up housekeeping in the
village of Nazareth. Today, so many refugees around the world can not return to their homes.
I wonder if a safe home will be found for all who just want to be safe and raise their families
with peace and joy. What strength and courage that would take – praying that every believer
would have the strength to fight the battle for equality for those with whatever walls
and prejudices we have.
God has a plan for each of us to listen, hear and learn in order to further God’s kingdom
with the work we are called to do. There are thoughts and behaviors that are expected of us if
we want to be labeled as “Christian.” Too many people use that description for themselves far
too casually. How do you define this word when you use it to describe yourself?
In 2001, after 15 years of working as a Director of Christian Education in 3 different churches, I
felt called out of West Virginia to further my education. If this idea came in a dream, I don’t
remember it, but the desire to learn more about all aspects of Christianity, including the
original languages of the scriptures became quite strong and even at age 52, I was
overwhelmed by the need to attend a seminary.
Perhaps one of the “hints” that I felt came from the realization that there had to be a better
way of serving in pastoral ministry.
I was tired of serving on church staffs where the senior pastor preached the love of Jesus
Christ on Sunday morning, but treated, not only the church staff but some parishioners with
cruelty and contempt. By-the-way, Bill Lovin in NOT one of those pastors!
And frankly, I wanted to have a more diverse relationship with all the congregation and not be
seen as “just” the caretaker of the children (even when I worked with adult and youth
Ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacrament has required living out the answers to the
questions asked during the ritual of Ordination. I think I’ve fulfilled some of those ideals:
- I trust in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior
- I have sought to follow Jesus. Love my neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world
- I have served with energy, intelligence, imagination and love wherever God has called me to be.
- I have been a faithful minister, proclaiming the good news…teaching faith and caring for people.
But there are other responsibilities that I have not fulfilled so well.
You see, I met up with my very own King Herod, the leader of my denomination is this part of
Iowa, who with prejudice against women pastors and a failure on my part to properly “kiss
up” to his expectations, strove to force me from serving any church of my denomination. With
the help of a few very unhappy and misguided souls in the church I was serving, who
didn’t understand the concept that being a follower of Christ meant a certain code of behavior
to live by, people who wanted to control how the pastor preached and led worship, I was
forced into my own exile, which happened to bring me to Iowa City. What those folks didn’t
remember is that I am a child of God and once I was ordained to complete a ministry in the
name of Jesus Christ, they could really do me no permanent harm. I know that my ordination
gave me the courage and strength I needed to stay on my knees in prayer, listening for where
the Spirit would lead me next, despite the sadness and tears that expressed my feelings of
failure at the moment.
So I have been “lead” to serve churches here in town as an assistant to the pastor of one
church and the director of education in 2 others. I have never been without a congregation
where I can continue to tell the stories of God’s love through the life of Christ. And
perhaps more importantly, I have been open to the Spirit’s guidance. Why did I choose THIS
church to visit on the day it was announced that your Children’s Program Director had to quit?
Why was I visiting a friend who was a patient at Mercy Hospital just as a chaplain came by and
heard me talking to that friend – I must have been using my extra-caring voice that day – so
that I was asked if I was clergy and would I be interested in being a chaplain there?
The Angel Gabriel told Joseph to NOT be afraid, to trust and to obey as he was told to. In our
Nativity Pageant, we heard “Joseph’s Lullaby” so eloquently sung by Andrew Knapp. In the
lullaby Joseph not only asks, “What kind of father will I be?” but also says “tell me how to
guide you. Tell me what to say. Tell me how to show you how to show the world the
way…when all I have to give you is love.” Sometimes the best examples of strength in our
faith comes when we feel the weakest.
Like Joseph, all I’ve been able to do is trust and obey. While Joseph may not have FELT strong
in the tasks he was assigned, he was determined to serve, to appear strong and then in the
end, demonstrating great strength of faith and obedience. Paul Tillich believes
that strength requires great love that comes through acknowledgement of weakness.
I made a commitment to Christ when I was ordained and His spirit has never let me down. Not
only have I been able to teach the faith, I now have the opportunity to care intimately for
those who are ill and bedridden, physically out of strength and powerless to care for
themselves. Yet so often I meet people of great faith who confess their faith is a sustaining
part of their lives.
I hope to continue to be strong, fulfilling not only my ordination vows but Christ’s teachings to
love and be present for all His children. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians to “…be
watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, BE STRONG. Let all that you do be done in
I encourage you, too, to be strong, live your faith and love the Lord.
Listen to the words of Howard Thurman in his poem, “The Work of Christmas:”
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone.
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost;
To heal the broken;
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers and sisters,
To make music in the heart.
God bless each of you in this time of endings and beginnings. Happy New Year!