When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, 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, where he stayed until the death of Herod.
And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Matthew 2:13-15)
Moving is hard. I only moved a couple times growing up, but one of my family’s moves stands out from the rest. One of my younger brothers, in elementary school at the time, didn’t like that we were moving. When it came time to move, he climbed underneath the table and clung to legs yelling, “I’m not going to leave. He also posted a note for the rest of the family to read, presumably for when his voice wore out: “I’m NOT moving. I’m staying in this house.” I think he summarized that gut feeling we may get in response to moving. “A new place, a new people, a new way of doing things? Do I really have to??”
Fleeing, I imagine, is even harder. For the second time a messenger of God appeared to Joseph in a dream, this time directing him to flee to Egypt. In the middle of the night, Joseph woke up and quietly packed on a donkey the gifts of the Magi, some bread, and the few belongings that he and Mary owned. Then, waking Mary, he informed her of his dream and need to flee. Shortly thereafter, they—along with the baby Jesus—were fleeing on a caravan road to Egypt. Joseph had never been to Egypt, but started along a road he knew headed in the right direction, hoping to find someone who knew the way as he went. Imagining that first night of traveling fills me with awe. Jesus, the glory of God, the hope of Israel, was being carried along by his mother on an empty road under a starry sky.
And Joseph, faithful Joseph, praying the whole night, perhaps using this verse from the Psalms:
Yahweh, my God, we take refuge in you. Save us from all those who pursue us, and deliver us.
Joseph depended on the care of the Father to watch over him and his family; the Father was walking on that road alongside them. As dawn approached, the Father was filled with joy to see the sun rising over the crest of the hills on their left, to see the love in Mary’s eyes as she looked upon Jesus, to see Joseph, his tired eyes scanning the horizon for any signs of danger, and to see his Son, waking with a start at the new light and rubbing his eyes with his small fists.
In the next few days, Joseph and Mary with the small child Jesus, would probably have met up with a caravan of merchants going to Egypt from Jerusalem or perhaps even further north from Sidon or Tyre. The merchants may have heard of the slaughter of the innocents and informed Joseph and Mary of the story. Joseph, deeply aware of the Father’s care for them, praises God again. He also mourns for the deaths of the small children in Bethlehem that he had seen just days before.
As they reach the 14th day of travel, they enter Egypt and find a small Jewish community who welcome them in. In the next few days, Joseph finds work as a brick mason, and Mary gets to know the small group of Jewish women who live there.
As had been the case with Abraham, Joseph, and Moses, God’s plan to bring his people back to himself was living a fragile existence in the kingdom of others.
And we, tonight, as we recall this story, we fulfill the statement of the Psalmist:
All your saints shall bless YHWH!
They shall speak of the glory of his kingdom…
to make known to the children of man his mighty deeds,
Not only do we see the Father’s work in this short passage from Matthew, but we all can recount the Father’s glory revealed us too. He’s taken care of us, given us the food we need to eat, the friendships we have with each other, the healings we’ve experienced in our midst, and he’s been our comfort when we mourn. Strengthened and emboldened by his faithfulness, we give him thanks. We also work to show our faithfulness in return, by listening for the Father’s message to us and by following his call as Joseph did, not waiting for the dawn.
I gave this as one of the lessons at the Indianapolis Branch’s Lessons and Carols this evening. Thanks to everyone who did music, the other people who shared, and everyone else who helped make the food, setup and cleanup all happen. The whole event was great.