In our liturgical calendar, today is known as “The Second Sunday after Christmas Day.” These “Sundays after Christmas” always feel kind of weird. If you go into almost any store, all of the Christmas stuff is gone, and in many places, the Valentine’s Day stuff is out – while we sit here singing Christmas Carols. And to complicate this, we celebrated the New Year last Wednesday, and we will celebrate Epiphany tomorrow. That makes for a really complicated calendar.
And it’s obviously a confusing time for the compilers of our Lectionary, too. Today they offer us 3 options for our Gospel passage. The 1st one – from Matthew – has the Wise Men leaving, and an angel telling Joseph to go to Egypt. But our Liturgical Calendar doesn’t have the Wise Men arriving until tomorrow – the Feast of the Epiphany. The 2nd option, from Luke, has Jesus 12 years old, which is jumping things a little. We just celebrated his birth 11 days ago. And the 3rd option is the Epiphany story. We will be using it at tomorrow night’s service, so I didn’t want to use it again this morning. But I guess it would be the best option in a church that doesn’t have an Epiphany service.
Well, I don’t have a solution to all of this confusion. This is just a time when chronological order doesn’t seem to work. So, this morning I want to look at our 1st choice – Matthew’s account of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt. Biblical scholars have done a lot of work on this passage. First, it’s from Matthew, which is one of the early gospels, and the one that they feel was written in Jerusalem, probably around 40 ad. So, unless the text has been seriously tampered with, it’s probably the closest to the actual events. Scholars feel that the Magi (or Wise Men) probably visited Jesus in Bethlehem, when he was about 2 years old. And this flight to Egypt would have happened shortly after that. Remember that Herod ordered all male children, 2 years old and younger, to be killed, after the Magi told him they were seeking the new king. We call those children the “Holy Innocents.” But, we are told that Jesus escaped the slaughter because they fled to Egypt.
Now, this is kind of important, because it was “an angel” that appeared to Joseph, and warned him, which allowed them to leave quickly, and escape Herod’s army. The writer is making it pretty clear that “The Hand of God” was involved in this. And the writer of Matthew does a good job of expressing the urgency of the situation: “Get up” – do it right now.
And then, once Herod was dead, an angel appears again the Joseph, and tells them to go to the Land of Israel. Now, the land of Israel was the old Northern Kingdom, Herod had ruled the old Southern Kingdom, and Egypt was below the old Southern Kingdom. So, to get to the north from Egypt, they would have to go through the South. And somewhere in the journey, Joseph finds out that Archelaus, Herod’s son, was now ruling the south.
Well, the text gets a little mixed up here. It says that they went to Nazareth in the district of Galilee, which is the in the old Northern Kingdom of Israel. It’s not really clear how they got through Judea, and Archelaus, and up to Nazareth, but it all worked out. And the Holy Family settled in Nazareth – from where Mary and Joseph started, and we don’t hear any more from them until our 2nd Gospel option, when Jesus, at the age of 12 goes with this family to Jerusalem, and gets separated from his family. By the way, that last line of our Gospel about Jesus being called a Nazorean – forget it. It’s a much later addition. The Nazoreans were an Orthodox Jewish group in Syria that believed Jesus was the Messiah. Some scribe stuck it in here, and it stayed.
Well, getting back to today’s story – Did the Holy Family really make all of these trips? Scholars argue every one of the trips. There’s a theory that the trip to Egypt was to link Jesus to Moses. There’s confusion over how they got north. They can all be argued. But I think there’s good reason to believe they did. And travel was really hard back then. It would even be hard today, but getting from Bethlehem to Egypt, and then up to Galilee, on foot or donkey, would have been major treks. And most of the material I’ve read, indicates that scholars think they really did it.
Well – I think there’s another message in this. The thing that it says to me, is that when God acts, God doesn’t promise it will be easy. God promises to stay with us, and watch over us, and guide us, but God doesn’t promise an easy trip. And I think we sometimes forget that. I know I do. I want things to go smoothly, and I want to be comfortable, and I don’t want to have to worry and fret. If God is involved in something with me, and watching over me, I would think everything should go just great. But it doesn’t seem to work that way. Instead, God seems to help us struggle. Maybe God wants us to share ownership in the situations of our lives. We can’t just sit back and say that God did it all for us. Instead, we have to say that God worked hand in hand with us.
In today’s reading, the Angel of the Lord tells Joseph what to go – “Go to the Land of Israel.” But even though the text isn’t clear as to just what happened, it IS clear that Joseph found another way, being warned in a dream. God and man working hand in hand to get this thing accomplished.
And I think that happens in our lives. We can all point to strange things that take place in our lives – that make no sense at the time. But as we look back, they do make sense, in retrospect, as the hand of God helping us along.
I know I’ve said it many time, but I really believe that when things are happening that don’t make any sense, that’s the time to be careful, because that’s when the Hand of God might be moving in your life and mine.
January 5, 2020