Summary: The season after Christmas can be blah. All the excitement is gone and we're left with the emotional crash after. This sermon speaks to how we can trust God when times are tough.
Trusting God When Times Are Tough: The Christmas Hangover
Have you ever had a hangover? I hear they can be rough. You know the story… the night before, you felt alive. You even loved everyone. Then you wake the next morning, and you can't say for sure, but you might be dead.
Once in a while, life has its hangover moments. I was in the pharmacy last week, and I heard two college-age young ladies talking about an “emotional hangover.” I was too curious to resist, so I practiced an ancient art form the seminaries call “cultural exegesis.”
In the real world it’s known by a very different name; it’s called “eavesdropping.”
One of the young women said, “I hate Valentine’s Day.” As I listened, I quickly learn that she hated many things in life. I nicknamed her, "The Decemberist.” She never wanted December to end. Her friend, the other employee, continued their optimistic discourse; “It makes me sick that it’s not even the New Year and they are making us put out Valentine’s Day candy.” The Romanticist replied, “Yep, Christmas is gone. It feels like the New Year Eve hangover I haven’t had yet.”
With that line, my attention drifted, and I said to myself, “Oh, this is so good… I’ve got to work it into a sermon.”
Their tirade highlighted something for me; the days following Christmas are hard. At Christmas, we experience the birth of Christ, gifts, food, smiles, laughter, and the secret family recipe for eggnog. Then it ends, and pink candy replaces chocolate Santa at the pharmacy.
In essence, we wake to the… Post-Christmas Hangover. That is why this Gospel reading is timed perfectly for today. We find Mary and Joseph caught in the post-Christmas tension too.
On Christmas, the Christ-child was born, and they and entertained shepherds while angels sang. Then the scene shifted. For Matthew, it's a 180-degree turn; they go from joy to terror. Joseph dreamed, and an angel said, “Run away from Bethlehem. Herod is afraid the child will threaten his power. He seeks the child to kill him.”
And quickly as we can snap our fingers, Christmas was over for Joseph.
There are Bethlehem moments of celebration but sometimes must leave celebratory events (times, people, places, careers) to follow where God leads us now.
Joseph is the unsung hero of the birth narrative. He models obedience.
He inspires me because he obeys God in multiple ways, not just by doing what he’s told, but doing it out of trust and a sense of vocation.
He obeys God by trusting
When the angel spoke to Joseph, he trusted the truth of the message. He started the long and dangerous journey towards Egypt. Joseph endured a lot for the sake of Jesus. God spoke to him in dreams.
Me, I would have said, “Amber, I’m having dreams and hearing voices, go on health grades.com and find me the highest-rated psychiatrist in the panhandle.”
It was a long way to Egypt. They couldn’t hop on a 737 at Bethlehem International and land at Cairo an hour later. It was a 12-day journey on a donkey across a desert. There were thieves, threats, and mineral deposits that rendered most water undrinkable.
Before I commit to walking 12 miles, much less 12 days, I need to be sure that God said “walk.”
It makes me wonder is Joseph grumbled. Did he ruminate and fuss under his breath about the heat, the thirst, or the fear? Or did he realize that obedience to God means acting, then trusting God with the outcome? Either way, he trusted God.
Heading to Egypt, Joseph realized that Christmas was a lot more than angelic choirs, shepherds, wise men, and miracles. Christmas was a requirement.
When the child—Jesus—is born in our hearts, it means more than a manger moment.
How did Joseph obey God? He accepted his vocation!
The word vocation means “to call.” What was Joseph’s calling? God called him to take care of the Christ. Sometimes we think vocation/calling is about the priesthood. God calls everyone. If you want to find your calling, ask two questions: “What am I good at? How can I use that to help?”
Joseph accepted that his life belonged to a larger purpose. That purpose asked him to live a different life than most. Sometimes it meant suffering.
Think about this: Jesus was a source of hardship for Joseph. People came to the manger and looked at the Christ child. Wisemen came to visit. But when life got hard, the Christmas lights came down, and the candy disappeared, Joseph didn’t put the baby down, then walk away from him.
He embraced the child. He endured the whispers for the sake of the boy. He went to Bethlehem, then Egypt, then Nazareth… all for his calling. He obeyed God and accepted his vocation.