(Matthew 2: 13-23)
If someone had told me in 1970 when I was graduating from a high school in upstate New York that one day I would be the pastor of a small Methodist Church in Washington State I would have told them they were nuts, in spite of the fact that my grandfather was a Methodist minister. I was going to be a doctor and had been accepted at Lemoyne College in Syracuse, a Jesuit school. Another sign. My medical career ended in my first semester with Fs in biology and chemistry, but I did get a B in Religion. Another sign. God apparently had a plan for my life, but it was on a need-to-know basis and, at the time, I didn’t need to know. Well, life didn’t kill me and here I am.
And that’s what I take away from our scripture reading for today. God had a plan for the newborn King of the Jews, and it would take some interesting turns and twists. We’ve already seen a few like having to travel in his mother’s womb all the way to Bethlehem so Joseph could register in the Roman census and being born in a stable. But the plot thickens.
First, we need some of the back story. After being born in the stable, it appears that the family may have moved into a house. We know this because, according to Matthew 2: 11, the Magi found Jesus, Mary and Joseph living in a house. We learn that the Magi came from the east to Jerusalem stopping off at King Herod’s palace to ask for directions. They asked Herod; Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him. When King Herod heard this, we are told he was disturbed as was all of Jerusalem. He had good reason to be concerned. Herod was given the title king of Jews by the Romans, so he didn’t come out of the line of David and was never truly accepted by the Jews and was thought of as a puppet of Rome. Herod’s suspicion and paranoia kicked in and he feared that this newborn king would one day take his throne. He wanted to know more about this so he called his advisors to see if they could shed any light on what these Magi were talking about. They were up on their Old Testament prophecies and told him that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Feeling threatened, he called the Magi in and instructed them to find the child so that he too could go and worship him. After presenting the Christ child with their gifts they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and to return to their country by another route.
And that brings us to our scripture reading for today. We are told that after the Magi left an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said; Get up, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him. This is pretty serious because the angel is telling Joseph to wake up and get moving because there’s no time to waste. The danger is imminent. This must have scared Joseph to death because he did wake up taking baby Jesus and Mary by night to Egypt where they remained until after Herod’s death. At the time going to Egypt for Jews was not uncommon because there were colonies of Jews in several main Egyptian cities that had developed during the time of the great captivity so they would have been welcomed and felt safe. Matthew tells us that this was done to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet; When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son, quoting Hosea 11: 1. Matthew next tells us that when Herod learned he had been tricked by the Magi he was infuriated, and he ordered that all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the Magi, be killed. This murderous act fulfilled what had been spoken by 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. (Jeremiah 31: 15) Matthew’s Jewish audience would know exactly what he was referring to. Rachel had been the favored wife of Jacob, one of the great men of God in the Old Testament. From Jacob’s 12 sons had come the 12 tribes of Israel. As such, she was considered the mother of a nation. And, the fact that Rachel was buried in Bethlehem was not lost on Matthew or his listeners.
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. And again, Joseph got up and took Jesus and Mary out of Egypt and back to 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 and 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. Before Herod the Great died in 4 BC he divided his kingdom between his three sons as he didn’t trust the Romans to let his royal line continue. His son, Archelaus, was given Judea. Archelaus was his father’s son and was a very violent man who began his reign by slaughtering 3,000 influential people. God definitely didn’t want Joseph’s family resettling in the region of this evil ruler, so they settled in the northern region in the small town of Nazareth.
What an incredible story! The tension and political intrigue are palpable. God had picked the right man for the job who did all he could to provide for his wife and keep his stepson safe. It’s an amazing story of divine guidance that only comes to the hearts of those who are prepared to accept the direction of the Holy Spirit. Joseph could have said that he really didn’t sign up for this. He just wanted to get married, raise a family and be a carpenter. But God had an important task for Joseph, and he didn’t hesitate. He trusted God and willingly went where the spirit led him.
Herod completely misunderstood the reason for Christ’s coming. Jesus didn’t want Herod’s throne, he wanted to be the king of Herod’s life. Jesus wanted to give Herod eternal life, not take away his present life. Herod is representative of people today who are afraid that Christ wants to take things away when, in reality, he wants to give them real freedom, peace, and joy. They think that if they decide to follow Jesus, they’ll have to give up things. That may be true but what they give up is what hurts them, that which they don’t need. They think that following Jesus takes all the fun out of life. Not true. You end up living a life unencumbered by sin and a harmful lifestyle, a lifestyle that is destroying your relationships with the ones you love and from being the person you were meant to be.
Don’t fear Christ, give him the throne of your life and, like Joseph, nothing will prevent God’s will from being done in your life because God has a plan.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, we thank you so much for the wonderful gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, sent to live among us and to serve as our go-between with you. A child born of love sent to teach us the true meaning of love. A child who would show us his unconditional love for all who would accept him as their savior. A child who was part of your plan for your kingdom that includes us. Accept us as we are and show us through the guidance of your Holy Spirit what it is you would have us do as a part of your plan for the world and all those who live within it. We trust in Jesus and go willingly where you lead us through your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.