A Child Shall Lead Them

Here is the message I presented on the 1st Sunday after Christmas (26 December 2004) at Tompkins Corners UMC.  The Scriptures for this Sunday were Isaiah 63: 7 – 9, Hebrews 2: 10 – 18,  and  Matthew 2: 13 – 23.


In a society where youth is emphasized over age, where the ultimate goal is youth, we tend to ignore the youth of this country. But we have always done this. Even in Jesus’ time, the children of society were second-class citizens, on par with the wild dogs that roamed the street. WhenJesus told his disciples to let the children come to him, he was going against the common perception of the role and place of children in the society.

Until John Wesley looked at the working conditions of the mines and factoriess of 18th century England, children were looked upon as just additional workers in an early industrial society. We know that children as young as ten worked the same shifts as their fathers and mothers in the mills. Though I could not find any comments about the situation, I am sure that Wesley was appalled by this situation. It was, of course, this situation that lead him to create Sunday school as a way of reaching out to adults, youth, and children and bring them a few moments of time where they might learn the Gospel. The Sunday school of John Wesley quickly became the regular school that we employ today.

Throughout our history, we have marginalized our youth and today is no exception. Despite the fact that youthfulness seems to be a necessity for success, we give very little support to the success of the youth. Compare the amount of money spent on being young today with the amount of money spent on our schools. I would suspect that there is a major difference in these two amounts and the money spent on school is not the greater amount.

Against that backdrop, look again at the Gospel reading for today. In the Gospel reading for today, we read of the wise men leaving after their visit with Jesus, Mary and Joseph; but that part of the Gospel story doesn’t occur until next week. Still, this is an important part of the Christmas story because it tells of Herod’s reaction to the birth of Christ.

The wise men told him that they had come to his country to see the newborn king. He told them that he wanted to do so as well and commanded them to come back and tell him where the new child might be found. But, even then, his intentions were less than honorable and the wise men, as the Gospel will tell us next week, were told by an angel to take a different way home. Herod’s reaction to this was to order the murder of all male infants two years or younger.

Because the newborn Christ was a threat, Herod sought to erase all signs of Christmas. I sometimes wonder if that is not what society tries to do each year. We don’t mind Christmas but we want it to be a single moment in time or at best just a short season during the year. Once it is over, we want it eliminated until we need it again.

But Christmas can never be just a single moment in time or just a few short weeks during the year. God wanted Jesus to grow up in this world so that he would know this world. In the Epistle reading from Hebrews today, it is pointed out that if Jesus is to be our Savior, he had to be a part of our life.

In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers’ in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.”

And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again he says,

Here am I, and the children God has given me.”

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil –and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

If Christ was to have impact on our lives, he must be a part of our lives. We cannot trivialize what Christmas is or what it means. We cannot ignore a child who will later grow up to lead his people.

So, before we take down the Christmas tree and put up all the trimmings until we need them again, let us look and see if there is not one more present that we might have overlooked. Christ is our gift from God, a present to us to remind us of his love and care for us.

I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is praised, according to all the Lord has done for us – yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses.

He said, “Surely they are my people, sons who will not be false to me”; and so he became their Savior.

In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63: 7 – 9)

But unlike many presents that we get each year, this present is one that has to be used each day. But using this present means that we make Christ a part of our life. Each day we must keep in mind all that Christ is and we find that to be a very difficult task. No wonder it is much easier to only talk about Christ at Christmas.

Accepting Christ means that we regain our relationship with God and that means that we accept obedience to Him. When Christ speaks of following him, there are no alternatives.

“Man can never escape from obedience to God. A creature cannot but obey. The only choice given to me, as intelligent and free creatures, is to desire obedience or not to desire it. If a man does not desire it, he obeys nevertheless, perpetually, inasmuch as he is a thing subject to mechanical necessity. If he desire it, he is still subject to mechanical necessity, but a new necessity is added to it, a necessity constituted by laws belonging to supernatural things. Certain actions become impossible to him. Others are done by his agency, sometimes almost in spite of himself.

When we have the feeling that on some occasions that we have disobeyed God, it simply means that for a time we have ceased to desire obedience. (From Waiting For God by Simone Weil)

Joseph took his family to Egypt out of his obedience to God. Abraham took his family to the Promised Land without questioning God’s command to go. Neither one asked God what was there nor how they would survive. Our obedience to God has to be the same way. Faithful obedience to God allows him to work effectively in our lives, protecting us from dangers of which we may be unaware, and leading us into new and exciting opportunities we’ve never dreamed of.

We see Christmas as a brief moment in time, to serve as an escape from all the troubles of the world. But the problems don’t disappear. Christ came to save us from our most pressing problem – our sin. “Man’s greatest need is not for a new political or economic order. His primary problem is sin. He is alienated from God, bearing the burden of this guilt and loneliness, facing a frightening future. He needs to be liberated from the tyranny of his sins, reconciled to God, and given a hope that transcends the circumstances of his life. This is what the Gospel message is about.

We have a hard problem seeing the child Jesus as the grownup Jesus. But then we also have a problem relating to what the grownup Jesus will ask of us. But we know this. A group of shepherds had their lives changed because of an encounter with the baby in the manger; a group of wise men had their lives changed because of their encounter with an infant Jesus. Perhaps, our lives will change because we let a child lead us from Christmas to Easter and the ultimate gift of life.

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