Sermon 2nd Sunday after Christmas, January 5, 2014 St. Paul’s-on-the-Hill, Ossining, NY
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…”
A year ago, I preached a sermon about the wise men and Herod. These magi or astrologers from the East made the natural, but catastrophic, mistake of seeking the newly born king of the Jews in the palace of the King in Jerusalem. They didn’t know that King Herod’s reaction would be to have every possible child in the area killed to prevent any challenge to his power.
Today’s Gospel is the parts we didn’t hear last year.
But Joseph, the father of one of these children, had a dream. “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt.” Joseph, in fact, had three dreams about what he was to do about Jesus. There was another Joseph who had even more dreams—the last fourteen chapters of the book of Genesis revolve around Joseph, the son of Jacob, who had many dreams and interpreted the dreams of others. Joseph saves the whole family of Israel from famine by bringing them to Egypt, where his sage interpretation of dreams has put him in charge of the abundant food supply.
So our later Joseph wakes up Mary and they put the kid and whatever clothes and possessions they can into the back of their old Chevy and head south. Not unlike what happens to other people when it is no longer feasible to stay where they are. It’s not unusual to see, or even to be young families without much in the way of resources, moving like that when they lose a job, or are evicted from a rental—I have even known people who have had to move because they or their children were in danger.
The Holy Family was no more secure or safe than these other young families. So like Joseph, the son of Jacob the patriarch, our Joseph took his family to Egypt to protect the baby. There was nothing idyllic or privileged about the life of Joseph and Mary and the child Jesus. They stayed a year or two across the border, outside of Herod’s jurisdiction, living as strangers, and then, when Herod was gone, they moved up into the obscure northern reaches of the Jewish country—to Nazareth in Galilee. It’s common to think of ordinary people in the past as living in the same place as their parents and grandparents, never moving more than a few miles from their place of birth. Certainly there were people who lived like that—but there are disruptions—lots of things create insecurity and instability, certainly for Jesus’ family. Real life is like that.
It is in this real life that we experience the love of God. Those dreams of Joseph, always revealing solutions to terrible problems based on God’s mercy: remember that in the first one he was told “Don’t be afraid to take this pregnant woman as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” The two dreams in today’s Gospel guided him in keeping the baby safe from the menace of the politicians of the day. In real life, the solutions to problems are not static; God redeems Israel from day to day. At one point Israel’s salvation was to go to Egypt, later Egypt was their oppression and salvation was to leave. The living God presents living solutions to living people.
Christian faith, then, is not something rigid and hard, like crystal. Faith is what enables flexibility in response to the things that happen in life. The family that fled Bethlehem in haste found safety and comfort through God’s love.
The prophet Jeremiah said as much centuries before, and I will close with this excerpt from today’s reading:
“He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock …Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning to joy; I will comfort them, and give gladness for sorrow.”