Sermon For Sunday, January 5, 2014

Matthew 2:1-12 ~ “Attraction/Repulsion And An Infant Messiah”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples Of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Sermon Blog:

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It has all the makings of a made-for-TV movie, with larger than life characters, intrigue and suspense, and a plot twist that leaves you shaking your head but IMG_3559smiling in the end.  Magi “from the east” following a star to a newborn king…  The current king enraged by the thought of a rival, even if still in diapers and teething… A family in poverty receiving the gifts of royalty… and then, in dreams deep, the astrologers are mysteriously warned to return to their own country by another way.

One of the things I think that makes this story so rich and compelling is that it offers us a classic portrayal of a psychological reality: the attraction/repulsion phenomenon.  The social psychology of attraction and repulsion is taken from the physical sciences and the repulsion or attraction between two magnetic dipoles.  In common practice, it is exemplified in those moments when we are both deeply fascinated by something while at the very same time completely disgusted by it.  I honestly believe the current popularity of zombies has at its root this attraction/repulsion factor.  Similarly our willingness to “rubberneck” while driving past an automobile accident shows the lure of something that is equally captivating and horrifying.  It is not one of our better human characteristics, to put it mildly.

IMG_3561And King Herod stands as exhibit A to prove such a point.  But so do the magi, or wise ones from the East.  In Herod’s case he is strangely attracted to the birth of a new king, going so far as to learn about, then summon these enigmatic travelers from a far off land.

But King Herod also had a repulsion for the infant, who posed absolutely no threat to him since 1.) the babe was born in Bethlehem, which is akin to saying the new President of the United States was just born in Linndale; and 2.) the baby was born into poverty, and then as is now there is a steep and rugged road to travel to move from poverty to the halls of power; and 3.) did I mention HE WAS A BABY!!!!  I’m not sure how old Herod was, nor how long he would live, but it’s a fair bet to say that this babe had a few years before he would be anything close to dangerous politically.  But that is how Herod saw him.  Sad to say, his fears didn’t end with his maniacal attempts to trick the magi into returning to him to give him all the juicy details so that, in Herod’s words, “I may also go and pay him homage,” which is to say, kill him.  His loathing would take him to the point of murdering all the male Jewish children of the area under the age of two.  This attraction/repulsion thing is no lite nor laughing matter.

IMG_3560And these magi, these astrologers, “how did they exhibit any attraction/repulsion?” you ask.  Well the attraction is obvious – that’s the central point of the story and the reason for them being so star struck – but the aversion had more to do with their interactions with King Herod.  If they had the wisdom to know that Jesus, the Messiah was born, and knew enough as to which star to follow to find him, would they not have also known of the treacherous nature of the current king, for whom there was much experience and, I’m am sure, widespread knowledge?  But power attracts us, and whether or not they simply felt obligated to accept the king’s invitation to dine with him or they did it for a more strategic reason, they were, in fact, drawn to him and his halls of power and authority.

So here is my learning for today.  The birth of the Messiah into our world is fraught with all kinds of complications, not the least of which is this social psychological dynamic of attraction and repulsion.  It would do us well to examine our motives of what draws us to the savior’s side so that we might better and more fully receive all that God has to give to us through this baby.  What is it about the infant Jesus that appeals to us?  Knowing that, then let us be aware that with every attraction, there may be a dangerous repulsion that, if understood, might help us avoid falling into the negative, the destructive, even the violent nature into which Herod plummeted.  Knowing this, might we instead take the high road, the path of peace, the way of justice, the route of righteousness, the direction of love.

+ In the babe of Bethlehem, are we attracted to the fresh sense of a brand new beginning for which we have yearned for so long?  If so, then why are we repulsed when other people get a new opportunity, a second chance, or a new lease on life?

+ In the babe of Bethlehem, are we attracted to the innocence and vulnerability of the babe, which seems to stir up feelings of openness in our own soul?  If so, then why aren’t we more repulsed when people take advantage of another’s weakness and why do we get such a thrill from watching influential people exploit the helpless and vulnerable?

+ In the babe of Bethlehem, are we attracted to this new embodiment of power-made-perfect in a gentle, quiet love because we know so well the old definitions of power aren’t working?  If so, then why are we repulsed when men exhibit traits of compassion and gentleness and why aren’t we repulsed more when women appear strong only through manipulation, deceit, and aggression?

+ In the babe of Bethlehem, are we attracted to the possibility of God working through the most vulnerable amongst us and champion seeing the divine at work in the least in our midst?  If so, then why does our society seem to have such a repulsion for the poor, foreigners, the outcasts and the misfits, and very little time nor resources to spare for the invisible classes of our world?

While it may never be the case that we will ever have gifts that would compare to the gold, frankincense, and myrrh the magi had to give to honor the baby, nor will we ever have the status nor power of King Herod to wreak havoc on the world trying to destroy the baby, we nonetheless have our gifts and our powers and must know how to use them well.  Let us ponder during the season of Epiphany how we are attracted to Emmanuel, God-With-Us, and how we are repulsed by Emmanuel, God-With-Us.  If we do our prayers and meditations well, we will honor God more fully and deepen our faith more surely so that we, too, like the magi of old, will lay our gifts at the feet of Jesus and avoid Herod by taking another way home.