Sunday, December 30, 2018 –
Matthew 2:13-23 – 13
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” 14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” 16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” 19 Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” 21 Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee. 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.””
This week, Belinda and I were visiting our daughter and son-in-law who is an Orthodox priest in Myrtle Beach, SC and we had just completed a cool but leisurely stroll with family members along the windy Atlantic beach. We were huddled around an open fire pit outside the condo where we were staying during our visit when we received a call from one of our other daughters who was home alone house-sitting and caring for another’s older dog who, when my daughter’s attention was distracted, jumped up and ate her entire dinner off of her plate without her prior knowledge. My daughter’s frustration that this dog had eaten her dinner she had just prepared was quickly outpaced by her intrigue and then her overwhelming panic that this food she had prepared for herself was discovered through her ensuing Google search to be a deadly combination to dogs! Her panic was then transformed into action and she, of course, called mom! From miles away, we both, could hear the alarm in her voice and her resulting exasperation directed at the “dumb dog” who was obviously just hungry and thought my daughter’s dinner looked pretty good. We then began to talk her through possible next steps – including calling the family’s veterinarian – in order to try to quickly prevent further harm to the dog.
This panic of my daughter’s was brought on by a level of crisis which took her by surprise just when she was hoping for a quite evening home alone with her dinner and someone else’s elderly dog. Crisis is not foreign to any of us gathered here this morning. We occasionally experience crisis at work, at school, or at home. We have witnessed governments in crisis, cities in crisis, companies in crisis, couples in crisis, pregnancies in crisis, children in crisis, – even people in the midst of a personal crisis! You might be aware of those having been impacted by an unemployment crisis, an environmental crisis, a financial crisis, a health crisis, an identity crisis, an energy crisis, or a midlife crisis.
This time of “intense difficulty, trouble, or danger” can be brought on by outside forces directed toward the lives of others or can, at times, be assumed to be “self-inflicted” because of carelessness or neglect on the part of those who are experiencing the ensuing crisis.
In today’s gospel lesson we see a “family in crisis”. One of the saints we commemorate today, St. Joseph the Betrothed, is spoken to by an angel in a dream and is told to flee. The fathers of the church teach that he is by now 80 years old and only 2 years ago he had experienced a similar angelic visit reassuring him to move forward with his arrangement to care for the young temple maiden who was now inexplicably found to be with child even when she claimed to have never been with a man. Only at that time he was prepared to quietly put her away and not risk his or her reputation any further. He had agreed to care for this young orphan who had been cared for inside the temple since she was only three years old. He knew her family and being a widower with 6 grown children he was a just man of royal lineage whom God had called out to be the guardian of this young virgin who would give birth the Son of God.
Just two years ago he had experienced the miraculous birth of this baby boy in his care, the peculiar visit of shepherds who had been sung to by a heavenly chorus of angels telling them to go search out the young child and worship him and also a visit from foreign magi traveling from the east who were following a glorious star in the sky which led them after months to the exact place where the child was born and the mother was convalescing. It all seemed so perfect – angelic announcements, local visitors, kingly gifts – all adding up to a miracle beyond description and belief!
All of this story-book birth soon came crashing in on this poor, aged carpenter. Another angelic visitor with another hard to understand order. This time St. Joseph is told to flee to Egypt – over 400 miles away on a donkey – with this young mother and her infant or they will likely be killed by a jealous governor who had been tricked by the magi who got word of the plan to kill the infant once he had heard that this baby was purported to be the long-awaited messiah to the Jews. Many of the ancient icons and hymns of the Orthodox Church depict St. Joseph’s elder son James (the first bishop of the church in Jerusalem, whom we also commemorate today) traveling with them to Egypt. It is assumed that his other grown children did not take this night journey with him, the Theotokos and the Christ child. It is not universally agreed upon how long St. Joseph, the Theotokos and our Lord Jesus stayed hid in Egypt – some ancient historians say 2 years, some 3 and yet others write that they lived in Egypt for as long as 5 years. We do know, however, that they stayed put until the angel arrived yet again to inform Joseph that those who would kill the child had died a horrific and grizzly death. Shortly after their flight Herod ordered the killing of all infants two years old and younger in his attempt to protect his rule over those Jews living in Judea. Yesterday, December 29, the Church commemorated the senseless and horrific slaying of the 14,000 Holy innocents slain at Herod’s order in Bethlehem.
We read that St. Joseph took the Theotokos and the Child to Egypt to fulfill the prophecy found in Hosea 11:1- “Out of Egypt I called My Son” and Matthew records that another Old Testament prophet spoke of the unspeakable slaying of the 14,000 children recorded by Jeremiah (31:15) the prophet, saying: “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.” This verse is used to describe the intense wailing which took place when the soldiers marched through the streets ripping infants from their mothers. Bethlehem was the final burial place for Rachel the wife of the Old Testament patriarch Jacob therefore Bethlehem was often referred to by the nickname Rachel. Ramah is a hilltop near Bethlehem and therefore when loud noises are made in Bethlehem it is understood to be so loud as to hear it all the way over in Ramah – as was the crying and lamenting of these young mothers as their infants were slain right in front of them because of the jealous rage of an unstable and vengeful ruler looking for a baby who threatened his illegitimate power over a captive people under his tyrannical control.
In today’s Gospel we see a ruler in crisis, a city in crisis, 14,000 mothers in crisis and this fleeing family – St. Joseph, the Theotokos and the Christ child in crisis. You’ve heard it said, I’m sure, that you find out a lot about someone when they are under pressure. The truth of the matter is – we all do and will experience crisis in our lives. Health, financial, employment, and relational issues will come our way and those experiences will reveal our true source of strength and faith. As we experience crises our true nature will come to the surface. Our jobs, kids, spouses, parents, bosses, neighbors, siblings – and even fellow church leaders and members will do things to bring about crises in our lives. That’s a sure thing. We should expect this. We should plan for it and even prepare for it. As we do so, let’s take a minute today and notice how St. Joseph the Betrothed prepared for and handled crisis in his life.
1. He knew the voice of the Lord – He was a just and righteous man who knew God’s messengers and His voice. He knew God and was no stranger to the voice and words of God. Are we strangers to God? Do we only call on Him in the midst of our panic or crisis? Do we know His voice? Do we surround ourselves with those who are His messengers speaking His words or those who speak the words and messages of the world and the enemy of God?
2. He was willing to obey the Lord – When God asked him to do hard things, make hard decisions, change his direction, leave his home, care for others even when it wasn’t easy and he was old and tired – he obeyed. Do we quickly obey God when we hear His words? Are His Words simply another option to us as we consider decisions and choices we need to make? Are we willing to make the hard choices to follow Christ and obey God no matter how hard it seems to us or the consequences we will need to endure?
3. He provided for and protected the Theotokos and the Christ child as a loving caregiver to both. He put their interests ahead of his own at great risk and suffered hardship to give them safety and to protect their reputation. Do we willing defend the Gospel and the Church when those around us challenge that which has been entrusted to us? Do we sacrificially give of our time, energy, and resources to ensure that the Church (the Body of and Bride of Christ) is protected and provided for? Do we take in the Theotokos as our own and love her in our devotion for her as the mother of God and our Savior?
By the way – My daughter called the vet, the dog survived the home-cooked onions and garlic dinner prepared by my daughter and the canine crisis from long-away was circumvented and soon to be forgotten by all.
St. Joseph was a laborer. He worked hard with his hands to provide for the Theotokos and the Christ child. He fled danger and did not demand his rights. He listened and obeyed and died before Christ ever began his public ministry. He is a great hero to our Church for what he did and gave at great sacrifice for the care of the Theotokos and Christ. Let us all learn from the lessons the Church wants us to learn today as we commemorate St. Joseph the Betrothed.
Now listen to the words of the son of St. Joseph, brother of James and bond servant of Jesus Christ: (Jude 24 & 25) – “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.”