Isaiah 63,7-9. Matthew 2,13-23

On Christmas Eve we were with John the Divine, contemplating the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, the light that shines in the darkness. On Christmas morning we went with Luke to the manger and worshipped with the rustic shepherds.

But this morning we are back in the real world, with Matthew. This is the part of the story that is never depicted  on Christmas cards and  is never acted out in children’s nativity plays, because human beings cannot bear too much reality. It didn’t even get into the BBC Nativity last week – the one that was supposed to be as real as Eastenders! For many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, Christmas is a short escape from the harsh world of reality, and they would prefer to forget this part of the story, lest it spoil that escape.

The exotic magi have gone home by another way, warned in a dream not to return to Herod, leaving Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus to face an uncertain future. Herod has realized Plan A is not going to work, and has put plan B into action – kill all the  babies and toddlers in Bethlehem in an effort to destroy the one among them who may grow up to be a threat to his power.

So, like many families the world over, Mary and Joseph are forced to take their baby away from their home, and become refugees in a foreign land, camping out there until the threat to their child seems to have gone; but even then, they continue to take precautions, keeping away from area near the capital, and setting up home in a Northern backwater, while their son grows to maturity.

Politics and plots, massacres, flight and life in a refugee camp: it’s just like the new we see in the media. Not very Christmassy, is it?

But it is Christmassy. Christ’s Mass is not about making the world a fairy tale place, with only sweet smelling straw, starlight and candlelight, cuddly animals and foreign visitors who bring rich and exotic gifts. It’s about living on in the real world, a world where tyrants do send their soldiers to slaughter whole populations including woman and children; where families do have to leave their homes and face insecurity to escape persecution; where fathers do have to think carefully about where they choose to live, in order that their wives and children may be reasonably safe.

But yet it’s about living in the real world transformed, because  of Immanuel, God with us. It’s about a world where we no longer feel ourselves alone or powerless in the face of such evil. As Isaiah tells us, it’s about a world where we know God’s presence alongside us, experiencing the worst that life can throw at us, but never defeated, nor destroyed. It’s about living in a world with the hope that there is a better way, and that ultimately, in spite of all appearances, that better way will triumph.

Christmas is not just about the children, it’s not just about December 25th, it’s about how we live through the whole year, in the faith that God is our saviour no matter what our trouble or distress, and that his presence will support us and save us no matter what we have to face on our journey.

Happy continuing Christmas to you all.