God Provides the Escape!

Matthew 2: 13-23

A pastor once shared this story at the beginning of a sermon…  The story began with a question;  Have you ever wanted to just stay in bed?

It was a Sunday morning.  The alarm rang, and the sleepy-eyed man hit snooze.  After some minutes go by, the alarm goes off again, and yet again, the sleepy-eyed man hit the snooze button…  The third time he does it, his wife comes into the room and says to him, “honey, it’s time to get up for church.”  So, the man replies; “But I don’t want to go to churchI’m tired and I’ve worked hard all week.  I just want to rest.”   The wife replies; “You have to go.”  “What do you mean I have to?  Give me one good reason.”  With her final reply, the wife responds; “I’ll give you two reasons you have to go.  First, I’m going.  And two, you’re the pastor.”

All joking aside, if I’m being honest, after three sermons and eight worship services over the course of a week, wondering what else I can say about Christmas this year… spending two days in bed with a stomach virus following our Christmas day service… and a Gospel reading that is seemingly void of the Good News altogether, of King Herod’s order of the slaughter of the innocents… this morning was one of those mornings for me where I just didn’t quite want to get out of bed to come to church…  Yes, even pastors have those days…

But here we are… and while we gather together for this first weekend of the Christmas season, just a few days following our celebrations of the birth of the Christ child, our gospel is one, that, at first glance, appears to be anything but merry…  One void of celebration…  With no baby shower or final touches on a nursery… no loved ones gathered around, fighting over who gets to hold the little one next… no calm after the storm following the delivery, a bit of downtime for our new parents to beam in amazement over this new gift of life or to reflect on all that has taken place in their lives over the past weeks and months now that the prophecies of Jesus’ birth has come true…

But rather, a world made up of fear… one marked by terror… one, where, word of the newborn king has reached king Herod and the earthly powers that be, and led them to place orders of bloodshed…  The state mandated murder of children, in which all boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem and its surrounding area are to be put to death…  The threat of execution reaching the newborn child of God long before the realities of the cross and the shouts of “crucify him!” echo through the streets of Jerusalem…  Merry Christmas…

As we enter into our text, often given the title The Escape to Egypt, Jesus is an infant… as tradition has it, less than a month old.  King Herod has heard of the birth, leaving him “disturbed” even “furious”, and leading him to call his Magi, these experts in the things of nature, ordering them to follow the star, find this child given the title; king of the Jews, and report back to him… all the while holding close his secret plot to kill him before he looses his throne.

As it goes, as the Magi look upon the babe in the manger they are overcome with joy… they, bowed down and worshiped him… and following the angels instructions, find another way home, avoiding King Herod all together…

And then, by way of yet another dream, Joseph himself is again visited by an angel of the Lord, who warns him of Herod’s secret plot and the impending danger that is to come, and orders them to flee to Egypt.

“Get up, take the child and the mother and escape to Egypt… for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  “So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt…”

In his commentary, New Testament scholar and professor of New Testament at Trinity Seminary, describes that today’s gospel, with its forced travels of Jesus and the Holy Family, is one that should provide a powerful symbol for the refugees and oppressed people of earth… for the helpless and vulnerable people of the world…

Jesus, the Son of God, under the care of his parents, forced to flee from political violence, to a foreign land, in order to avoid execution.

It’s safe to say, with its more recent political attention, and for us Lutherans, through the work done at our ELCA national assembly, that issues and concerns around immigration have been some of the hotter topics to discuss over the course of the past year.  That have caused heightened levels of stress for many in the pews, and certainly in the offices and email boxes of parish pastors.

With this reality, some will hear today’s text and immediately tune it out.  That Jesus and the Holy Family would be seen as refugees or immigrants is simply too much to stomach.  Others will use the gospel before us as some sort of proof text, supporting immigration and open borders.

But what if… what if… we were to put our current political climate aside, and see today’s gospel for what it is?  Not a message supporting one political agenda or another, but a message of faith… a message about the character of God… about who God is… and thus who we are to be as people of faith.

For those of you who were here in worship on Christmas morning, you heard me share a bit from Martin Luther’s Christmas Book, in which Luther reflects on the lowliness of Christ’s birth;  No room in the inn.  No one to assist Mary in her labor.  No light, no fire… in the dead of night… in the thick of darkness.  No cradle to lay Jesus in.  No hand knitted blanket to wrap him in or cap to place upon his head…  No loved ones around to celebrate.  Not a single person in all of Bethlehem able to recognize what God was doing in that stable on that Holy Night.

As Luther continues, he describes of how quickly the lowliness of Christ’s birth is transformed into terror.  But this time, as Luther points out, not for those who we would expect.  Not for Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, or even for the Magi… but for Herod, and for all of those who follow his orders… those in power…

Luther writes; “This Gospel is a terror to the great, and powerful because they all despise Christ.  It is a comfort to the lowly to whom alone Christ is revealed.”  “The devil, Herod, and the priests meant to destroy Christ, but God provided the escape.”

A terror to the great and powerful who despise Christ… A comfort to the lowly to whom alone Christ is revealed… The devil, Herod, and the priests meant to destroy Christ… but God provided the escape…  God provided the escape

Seemingly void of Good News?  Maybe… But void of it?  Not a chance.

Jesus, the king of the Jews, Immanuel, God with us… born in the lowliness of fashion… into a world marked by fear and unjust rulers consumed by power… forced from his homeland to spend his early years in a foreign land under threat of execution…  the devil, Herod, and the many other worldly powers seeking to destroy him… and, through it all, even death on the cross, God provided the escape… that through Him… his life, death, and resurrection… God would do the same for us.

Through today’s gospel, we are given the hope that we have a God, who just as he guided Joseph to protect Mary and the new born Son, sends the Spirit to meet us in the midst of whatever challenges we face, assuring us, that we never do so alone.  That while the Herod’s of our world today may be issuing orders rooted in unjust power to strike fear in the hearts of others, God is keeping promises, guiding us along the way, and calling us to something different… to a life of humble service, where, in all that we do, the Good News appears to be anything but void…

So, whatever it is you are dealing with… wherever it is that Christmas finds you this year, trust that God is keeping promises – nurturing God’s divine life in you that you would be a sign for others when they need it the most.

And in those times when the Good News appears to be absent… God’s presence seemingly invisible… hold firm to the promise made true through the birth of a baby in a manger thousands of years ago…  The promise that is born into our lives today in the midst of the harsh and difficult truths of a world too often made up of unjust rulers, violence, and fear…  That brings hope into hopeless, light into encroaching darkness, and life even in the face of death.  For a savior has been born.  His name is Jesus, Immanuel… God with us…  And what a gift that is!  Thanks be to God.  Amen

~Pastor Andrew Geib


One thought on “God Provides the Escape!

  1. This text presents a lot of Good News starting with Joseph’s unwavering obedience. Joseph obeys without complaint. He says not a word. Joseph’s rapid (leaving the very night of the dream) and complete obedience is impressive. His prompt obedience is crucial to God’s plan. He knows nothing except the next step of the journey, but he takes that step. So also is our obedience crucial to God’s plan. God is calling us, today. He is calling us to be a voice for peace, justice, and grace. He is calling us to challenge the way things are in the world, to stand against evil when we see it, to be the presence of God for those who suffer violence and abuse, to let them know that God is with us, Immanuel.

    Another piece of Good News among many in this story for all of us is that Joseph came back to Nazareth, the hometown of Mary and presumably Joseph. It was remarkable because Nazareth was an unremarkable town, and because it was where everyone knew Mary and Joseph and the strange circumstances surrounding the birth of their son. Jesus grew up in this somewhat despised town. To the world He looked ordinary, commonplace, by no means kingly. But God works differently. He does not choose as the world chooses; the world looks on the outer appearance, but God looks on the heart. That should give us all hope that we have a future with God.

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