Second Sunday after Christmas, Year A
St. George’s Chapel
January 5, 2014
"Happy are the people whose strength is in you! * whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way" (Psalm 84:4). Amen.
Rest on the Flight to Egypt by Merson
Image found here.
For many folks, the past few weeks have been filled with laughter, gifts, and lots and lots of traveling. Whether you hosted visitors or took to the roads or airways yourself, the Christmas season is chock full of journeys.
This is fitting for the season, as the Gospel accounts we have listened to over the past few weeks have involved a lot of traveling as well. In Advent we heard about Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth. The young pregnant woman immediately seeks out the company of the elderly pregnant woman, both unexpectedly about to be first-time mothers. In both miraculous situations--one is a virgin and the other is past the age of childbirth--they come to realize that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
On Christmas Eve we heard about Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, the land of Joseph’s ancestor, King David. Instead of staying in their hometown, they must travel a great distance to be recorded for the census. There, in a barn, Mary gives birth to Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Even though far from home, nearby shepherds, joined by the angels who gave them the good news, gather around the manger to praise and worship the newborn King.
Tomorrow is Epiphany, when we remember the wise men and the child they journeyed to worship. The season afterward is filled with light, remembering the star that led the magi to the Christ Child, who was and is the “light of all people,” the light that “shines in the darkness” (John 1:4,5). They traveled a great distance (probably all the way from Persia), and I’m sure had many adventures along the way.
Today’s Gospel reading from Matthew tells of a few journeys, as well, each sparked by a dream of Joseph’s. It’s nice to hear a little bit more about Jesus’ adopted father; he seems to get the short end of the stick so often, but in Matthew’s Gospel we get a peek at the man who helps raise God’s Son. The wise men have just left the stable, and Joseph receives a message from an angel of the Lord, who comes to him in a dream. The angel warns him of King Herod.
You see, before the wise men reach Bethlehem, they stop by Jerusalem to ask for directions to the “king of the Jews” (Matt 2:2). I can picture Herod, the provisional king of Judea who considers himself to be Jewish (that’s debatable), spewing his drink out at this news. “Wait a minute--I’m the king. Who dares challenge my authority?!” He calls the wise men to come over and shrewdly gives them directions to Bethlehem, telling them to come back and report to him what they find.
Well, after they find Jesus, the wise men are “warned in a dream not to return to Herod” (v. 12). Herod does not appreciate their deception, and so because he does not know the identity of this “king of the Jews,” he has every child in and around Bethlehem age two and under killed, just to be on the safe side (v. 2). He will not see his power taken from him, and commands this horrible act, bringing to mind the pharaoh of Egypt’s killing of Hebrew children, from which Moses so narrowly escapes.
Joseph has been warned by an angel, though, and they get out of Bethlehem just in time. The family spends a few years away, ironically in the land of Egypt that held the Israelites captive for so many years. But this is not the first time that Egypt has been a safe haven for Israelites. The Hebrew patriarch Abraham and his wife, matriarch Sarah, journeyed to Egypt, following God’s command. Their great grandson Joseph, the one with the coat of many colors, was sold to traders in Egypt and eventually rose to power and brought his whole family there during a famine. Egypt has a special place in the salvation history of the Israelites, and so it seems fitting that Jesus’ story should also include time spent there.
When Herod dies, an angel comes to Joseph in a dream again, and the family packs their things and returns to life in Israel. They avoid Judea and return to Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph had begun their life together. This is where Jesus, whose name means “the Lord saves,” grows up until he begins journeying on his own (n. 1:21).
Our lives are permeated by journeys as well. As we begin this new year, we pause to reflect on the paths we have taken, the journeys--both physical and spiritual--we have participated in, and the people we have met along the way. We are formed by these journeys. Each one teaches us new things about who we are and who we have the potential of becoming.
Many people use the beginning of the year to come up with resolutions. If you’re like me they are well-intentioned but the list is too long to realistically accomplish all of them: get in shape, eat better, learn an instrument, keep the house clean, write a song, clean the gutters, start a garden, pray more, watch less TV, and on and on and on....
What if, instead of a list of tasks to accomplish, we look at each item as a journey, a path that will take us somewhere new and exciting? Rather than viewing eating better and getting in shape as doctor’s orders, think of it as an opportunity for exploring new recipes and delighting in the inner strength you find as you come to regard your body as a temple. As an alternative to praying more just because you should (that one’s on my list), think of it as exploring the world with God at your side, sharing stories of your travels and listening to where God is calling you next. And God is with us. Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus, the Lord saves. Our journeys are connected to the journeys of the people before us; we are a part of the great salvation story.
Whatever your resolutions, journeying is in our history, it’s in our DNA. What new paths are waiting for you? What exciting things will you experience along the way?
Pack your bags; we’re in for quite a ride!
Flight into Egypt.
Image found here.