Defusing Unexploded Bombs

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Epiphany
January 2, 2022
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Many forces in human life can shatter families and ruin friendships. But we can defuse explosive situations by showing gentleness and patience, speaking the truth in love, and forgiving others as Christ has forgiven us.

Ten years ago, two bombs were discovered beneath the surface of the Rhine River in Germany. They had been dropped by American and British planes during the last years of World War II and had been lurking under the water for 65 years. When water levels dropped, the bombs were found.

Fortunately, bomb squads successfully defused the bombs after 45,000 residents of the riverside city of Koblenz were evacuated. This was the largest German evacuation since the end of the war, involving nearly half the population of the city. One of the bombs was a 4,000-pound British "air mine," with the potential to destroy the city's center. The other was a smaller American explosive bomb. The American bomb was transformed by its impact on the earth, making it more difficult to deactivate.

When the bombs were discovered, life came to a virtual standstill in Koblenz. Hundreds of volunteers evacuated two hospitals and seven homes for senior citizens. Numerous hotels and a prison were also affected. When the bomb squad began its work, authorities declared the center of Koblenz a "forbidden area," and a thousand authorities searched the town for stragglers.

The people of Koblenz are accustomed to bomb findings, and there may still be unexploded bombs in the area. Throughout Germany, the deactivation of bombs is a common practice, although it can end tragically when explosions kill members of bomb-disposal squads. Fortunately, no one was hurt or killed in Koblenz, and the evacuated residents were allowed to return home after the bombs were safely defused. 1

Unexploded bombs

During the Christmas season, you may have discovered some "unexploded bombs" beneath the surface of your relationships. This is not uncommon, since many of us run into explosive situations as we gather with family members and friends. You know the dangers: alcohol abuse, infidelity, drug abuse, mental illness, sexual addiction, political differences or simmering family feuds - all can blow up and cause tremendous damage. These bombs can be difficult for us to defuse, especially if we carry with us feelings such as anger, resentment, jealousy or bitterness. These emotions can be volatile, with the potential to blow up relationships.

The Bible has a lot to say about the unexploded bombs of human life. Consider the story of the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem. The wise men travel from the East to Jerusalem, looking for the child who has been born king of the Jews. King Herod is frightened by this, so he summons the wise men and says to them, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." This is the first unexploded bomb: Herod is threatened by Jesus, so he attempts to manipulate the wise men.

The wise men succeed in finding Jesus, and they kneel down before him. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to report back to Herod, they return home by another road. They defuse the unexploded bomb of Herod's manipulation by avoiding him.

Then an angel appears to Joseph in a dream and says, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him."2 This is the second unexploded bomb: Herod's plot to kill Jesus. Fortunately, Joseph pays attention to this warning from God, and escapes with Jesus and Mary to Egypt, where they remain until Herod dies. They defuse the unexploded bomb of Herod's murder plot by getting out of town.

You can see from this story that unexploded bombs are not unique to life in the 21st century. They existed in the first century, and almost blew up the life of Jesus when he was a newborn. Manipulation and threats of murder have been around for thousands of years, and human beings have been challenged to find ways to defuse these dangers. But we cannot always eliminate threats by avoiding people, as the wise men did. We cannot always find safety by fleeing the country, as Joseph and Mary did. We usually have to face these bombs and find a way to deal with them.

Biblical bomb disposal

The Bible gives us help with these challenges, in the wisdom of both the Old Testament and the New Testament. A number of scripture passages offer guidance for effective bomb disposal as we enter the New Year and face potentially explosive situations at home, at school, at work and in the community.

From the 15th chapter of the book of Proverbs: "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger .... A gentle tongue is a tree of life �. those who are slow to anger calm contention."3 So what might it mean for you to provide a "soft answer" in a contentious conversation at the dinner table? You might find that it lowers the temperature in the room. What could a "gentle tongue" contribute to a difficult workplace discussion? How would a disagreement at school be defused by you if you were "slow to anger"? Soft answers, gentle tongues, being slow to anger - all these qualities of good communication can be carried by you into the New Year.

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul reminds us that we have been saved by the grace of God through our faith in Jesus Christ.4 He discovered that the bomb of human sinfulness had been defused by Jesus, leading to forgiveness and new life for all who have faith. But this is not the end of the story. Paul encourages us to respond to this divine bomb disposal by living in a distinctively Christian way, showing humility, gentleness, patience and mutual forbearance. He challenges us to bear with one another, but at the same time to speak the truth to one another. "But speaking the truth in love," says Paul, "we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ."5

Think of one person you are dreading as you start this year. We all have difficult people in our lives, so you are not alone in feeling this way. What would it mean to bear with them, in love? Bearing with a difficult person does not mean that you overlook explosive problems - alcohol abuse, infidelity, drug abuse, mental illness, sexual addiction or simmering feuds. It means that you find a way to speak the truth in love. So what steps could you take to defuse these problems? Often specialized help is needed, and fortunately professional help is available. If you come across an unexploded bomb, ask for help. Don't ignore it.

The power of forgiveness

Paul also says, in his letter to the Colossians, "Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive."6 We all know people who have hurt us, and we naturally find it difficult to forgive them. But Paul urges us to forgive - not because they deserve forgiveness, but because we are people who have already been forgiven.

Some people are difficult to forgive because they have acted with tremendous malice. Think of King Herod, a brutal and bloodthirsty tyrant. Matthew tells us that when Herod discovered that he had been tricked by the wise men, he sent his soldiers and they "killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under," in a futile attempt to destroy Jesus.7 A man as evil as Herod would certainly be hard to forgive. But Matthew says something earlier in the story that reveals Herod's state of mind: When Herod heard about the birth of Jesus, "he was frightened." Yes, he was frightened ... by the birth of a baby. Herod was not nearly as confident or powerful as he appeared to be, and his evil deeds were driven largely by his insecurity and his weakness.

We have all been hurt by others, and often their cruel actions have been motivated by insecurity and weakness. Such motivations do not justify or excuse their deeds, but making this link can help us to understand why certain choices were made. And since each of us has made some bad choices based on our own insecurity and weakness, we can sympathize with our fellow sinners and perhaps even forgive them. We do this not because anyone deserves forgiveness, but because we are people who have already been forgiven by Jesus.

As you start this New Year, think of one person that you need to forgive. Someone who has hurt you, someone who has caused you some lasting damage. Offer them the gift of forgiveness, not because they are good or deserving people, but simply because Jesus has already offered you the gift of forgiveness. When you let go of your anger through a decision to forgive, you will feel as though a bomb has been defused. You'll feel safer and more secure, and able to face the future with confidence.

Unexploded bombs are not found only in Germany and Bethlehem. They are around us right here, right now, and we will encounter them in the year to come. But we can defuse them by giving soft answers, by bearing with one another, by speaking the truth in love and by forgiving each other, just as Christ has forgiven us.