In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “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.” And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. (Matthew 2:1-3, 7, 12)
Now after they 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. 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. 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 Nazarean.” (Matthew 2:13-23)
Christmas 2013 is over! The trees all over the city are still up, but they look mighty empty without presents under them. The big meals are over (except for today!) Trips are over, family parties done. The tension, stress and expectations of the holiday season are just about behind us.
New Year’s 2014 is over! We have recovered from the revelry and sat through way too many footballs games.
Life has gotten back to normal. And … many people suffer from the post-Christmas blahs … a kind of depression after all the hoop-la of Christmas … the “post-Christmas blues”.
Think of what it was like for Mary and Joseph. We spend weeks before Christmas preaching about the events leading up to … and including … the birth of Jesus. We hear about the shepherds and angels and wise men. We hear about Mary and Jesus . . . But not much about Joseph. The Bible doesn’t record anything that Joseph ever said. He is usually ignored.
And we have just celebrated the visit to the Holy Family of the three wise men, known as Epiphany or Twelfth Night.
The wise men have given the Baby Jesus their gifts and then they left. So, Mary and Joseph went to bed, and Joseph has a dream. Now … this isn’t the first dream that Joseph has. If you remember, God spoke to Joseph in a dream, telling him that Mary would bear the Son of God, he should marry her and call their son ‘Jesus’. Joseph obeyed God.
This time, the angel in his dream told Joseph to flee to Egypt, because King Herod was going to try to kill Jesus. The wise men had been warned in a dream that Herod did not want to worship the Baby Jesus, but murder Him.
King Herod was a mean, vicious person. History has a lot to say about him. Caesar Augustus was quoted as saying that it would be better to be king Herod’s pig than his son. Pigs were protected by law … Herod’s family wasn’t. King Herod had already killed two of his own sons and his favorite of his ten wives. He killed his brother-in-law because the Jews liked him better than they liked him; he also killed his wife’s grandfather, and an uncle who had once saved his life. He killed his own uncle and his mother-in-law. What’s killing a few babies in Bethlehem to King Herod!
Fearful of the prophecy of the wise men, that a new king was born, he commanded that all male children under the age of two be killed.
Joseph didn’t waste any time. He didn’t wait until morning … he got them packed that night and headed out to Egypt.
Think about what this meant for Joseph. He and Mary had traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem … expecting to stay only for a few days and then return. They hadn’t planned on moving. Their family was back in Nazareth … they hadn’t even said “good-bye”. They didn’t bring a wagon, loaded with their furniture, valuables, and furnishings. Joseph probably had a carpenter shop back in Nazareth … what would happen to that?
In the middle of the night, God said “move!”. Joseph didn’t argue with God. He didn’t ask God for “Plan B”. He didn’t wait to try to figure it all out. He just obeyed.
When God calls you, He provides. God wouldn’t have told Mary and Joseph to go to Egypt, and then say, “you’re on your own … good luck!” They would need enough money to live off of while down in Egypt … and God provided it for them from the gold, frankincense and myrrh given by the wise men.
Mary and Joseph weren’t alone in Egypt. By this time, there was already thousands of Jews who had fled to Egypt to find safety from wicked King Herod. There were Jewish settlements there … with synagogues and a temple. The land that had once enslaved the Jews God now used to protect the Jews.
King Herod finally died, not long after Mary and Joseph went to Egypt. Then Joseph had another “dream”, and the angel speaks to him once again – they were to go back to Nazareth, by way of Jerusalem where they would raise Jesus. Again, no questions … no arguing … Joseph and Mary packed up and returned to Israel.
In another “dream” Joseph had heard that Herod’s son, Archelaus, was on the throne, and he was far worse than his father! He had sent soldiers into the temple on a Passover and executed 3,000 Jews just for the fun of it.
When Mary and Joseph got to Judea, where Archelaus ruled, they were afraid to stay in that area very long. So … being warned by God in a dream (AGAIN!) … they headed north, as fast as they could, to Nazareth in Galilee.
God wanted his Son to be raised in a place outside of politics … outside of prosperity … outside of notoriety. He wanted his Son to be raised in a simple village, without fame or prestige. He was raised as a normal little boy in an obscure village.
So, what do we learn from all of this?
1. The safest place to be, is where God leads you.
- The wise men followed a star, and it led them to the Christ-child.
The wise men followed God’s instructions in a dream, and they escaped Herod’s wrath.
Joseph followed the angel’s instructions in a dream, and escaped to Egypt.
Joseph followed God’s instruction in a dream, and escaped the wrath of Archelaus.
The safest place you can be, is in the center of God’s will. Whatever path you take in life, God knows where it will lead.
2. A Christian isn’t exempt from troubles.
- Look at all the suffering and trouble that the first Christmas brought about:
The wise men, avoiding the wrath of Herod.
Mary and Joseph fleeing for their life.
Multitudes of innocent babies were killed by a mad king.
3 God is in charge.
- You can always feel safe when you are living in God’s will. Bad things may still happen to you, but God is in charge. Everything that happened in the Christmas story was planned out by God. You can see his hand in the Christmas story every step of the way. God is in charge.
Joseph and Mary experienced “post-Christmas blues”. They didn’t have their baby in Bethlehem, they didn’t “live happily ever after”. Their dreams of going back to Nazareth to live a quiet and peaceable life were postponed for a few years. Their life was nothing like they had planned … or expected.
Maybe you are experiencing “post-Christmas blues”. Maybe your Christmas wasn’t all that you expected.
Now that Christmas is over, maybe the excitement has passed … all the unmet hopes and expectations are not more … and … you find yourself in sort of funk.
God is still in charge! He didn’t leave Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem to go it alone. He didn’t leave them in Egypt to tough it out. God is still on the throne. God is still in charge!
And God will not leave you or me alone, either! Amidst our turmoil, our ‘funk’, our doubts and confusion – amidst our hoped, unmet wishes, fears and worries for the future – God is in charge!
Follow your dream – listen for the voice, and all will be well – in time – in God’s time –
All will be well!
Let us pray:
Oh, good and loving God, lead us into this new year with constant assurance that YOU are in change and your Kingdom lies ahead. Give us dreams to follow and hold us in your loving arms. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 12 January 2014