Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “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.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.” (NIV)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus the Christ, our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
And so reality sets in. It doesn’t take long, but the powers of evil in this world strike back at the birth of the power of love in short order. We don’t get to live in the pure joy of Christmas without the realization that real life lurks right around the corner.
Matthew is masterful, weaving the story of Jesus into the story of all time and all truth. Of course God is the original author, but it is Matthew that tells the story in a way that we can see all the echos, and reverberations across time, because the truth is, God’s story is one story told again and again in various ways. The story of creation; the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the story of the exodus and the promised land; the story of Jesus; the story of the early church, and even our own story; they are all one story of God’s love and the human struggle with faith, hope and courage. It is the story of good vs evil. It is the story of hope vs despair. It is the story of our lives.
God’s story is good news in the midst of the problems and pain of real life. The Holy Family is uprooted to flee to Egypt and then uprooted again, to come back to Israel but not to go home. They have to make a new home. It is like us. We have to make ourselves at home wherever we find ourselves. We have to come to understand that wherever we are, God is with us. We are not alone, so we can build our lives and settle into the community of wherever we are. And when we have been in a place for a long time, it is our task to welcome the newcomer, to help them settle in, to receive them with grace and honor, as we would receive the Holy Family.
God’s story is survival in the midst of a dangerous world. The Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape the edict of Herod, but their friends and neighbors in Bethlehem were not so lucky. Jesus lived to grow up and teach us all how to live, how to love, and how to serve, but the other mothers and fathers knew the ache of loss. It is our task to comfort those who have suffered devastating pains. Pain is pain, whether at the hands of self-centered, evil people, or from the impersonal thief of disease or any of a number of other causes. Jesus lived, and he still lives in us, and we are to exercise compassion for those who are in pain.
God’s story is that we are never out of God’s reach. Whether the Holy Family was at home or away in Egypt, God was with them. We know this from Joseph’s dreams. God knew exactly what he needed to reassure him to take Mary as his wife. God knew they needed to flee and fast. God knew when it was time to return. God did not forget them when they were out of the country. God was watching over them and guiding them each step of the way. It is true for us too. God will guide us, but we have to stay tapped in; connected. In Max Lucado’s book “Unshakable Hope” that some of us have been studying together he tells the story of changing the cartridge on his printer and for some reason the new cartridge would not print. He fiddled with it for over half an hour before he noticed there was a thin strip of tape covering the outlet of the cartridge. There was plenty of ink in the cartridge but it was being blocked.* God is present with us, but sometimes we let things get in the way of our access. The thing for us to remember is no matter what, no matter where, God is with us. God is here. In this place. At this time.
I could go on, but you get the idea. We will suffer in this life. Others will suffer other things than what we have to. There is no benefit in comparing whose is worse. Suffering is hard. It is a Christmas kind of life to have hope in the midst of it all. It is a Christmas kind of life to have compassion for others, to welcome the stranger, to make a life wherever we find ourselves. It is a Christmas kind of life to trust that even in the midst of what we cannot understand, God is with us and we will never be alone. Sit with that a bit. Receive the presence of God in your life. Ponder the people in your life and neighborhood. Ponder how you can receive them like you were receiving the Holy Family. Ponder how you can live a Christmas kind of life.
(silence for reflection )
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Blessings to you,
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
*Max Lucado. “Unshakable Hope: Building our lIves on the Promises of God” Thomas Nelson Publisher, Nashville, TN, 2018, page 137.