This morning’s scripture reading is a difficult one but one that also has resonance in today’s world. An uncertain father, expecting mother, on a difficult journey in an inhospitable world. How then are we called to minister to all of God’s people?
13 Now after they had left, 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; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph[a] got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men,[b] he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.[c] 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph[d] got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
Please pray with me: may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you Creator God, our rock and truly our redeemer.
I have been thinking about Christmas a lot this year. I imagine that I’m not the only one and perhaps my thoughts are not as different as I believe them to be but yes, Christmas. And not just the day, but the season. Bear with me here…
The Christmas of my childhood was one of the few times my family felt like a family. We had our traditions and values and I seem to remember that the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Handel’s “Messiah” as a part of our Christmas Eve ritual and then of course there were the presents on Christmas morning. Did I believe in Santa Claus? I’m not quite sure to be honest but I was also a pragmatic young boy so sure. But for one day, the love for family and the family that loved me back was the takeaway. Presents sure helped but for at least one day, my parents remember why they did what they do and for whom they did it.
So what or whom am I thinking about? Let me offer this from a sermon from Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson, Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, & Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta as a way of explanation:
“In the first act of this divine drama, God speaks to Joseph in a dream through an angel, a messenger of God, commanding him to: “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” WOW! What a message! No romantic or idealistic picture of Christmas here! Rather, we have the harsh, cold reality of a tyrant ruler, Herod, who is determined to shed innocent blood. He’s doing everything possible to kill the Christ-Child. According to Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod was an extremely cruel man, who seems to have had no problems ruling by evil means. …Herod ordered the execution of three of his sons (even Caesar in Rome is reported to have said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son); and at his burial, one member of every family was to be slain so that the nation might really mourn.3 However, Herod did not manage to kill Jesus. Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt and lived there as refugees until after it was safe to return back to the Promised Land, after Herod had died, in fulfillment of the prophecy of Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
As much as we might think that this passage is about Herod, an often times cruel and capricious ruler, I am focused on Joseph. Yes, that Joseph. The carpenter. The remarkably woke man who even in the face of Mary’s pregnancy found a way to seek an easier softer way to let her out of their marriage and then, a witness to an angelic visitor who tells him that all is good, Mary is not complicit and that the son who will be born to him is the son of God.
Scriptural understanding requires context and consideration, but I am hard pressed to find a way that a carpenter of this time would not only be willing to abide by all of this but even remotely understand it all. Yet Joseph persists. In the coming year it will be another anniversary for me. In 2020, I will have been in the United States for 60 years as a legal immigrant. My story such as it is:
An unemployed father looking for work. A mother who had never left St. John’s, Newfoundland let alone Canada and had me and my three-year-old sister to take care of. We came because this was a place of providence and possibilities. We came because what we had was not sustainable. We came because we had to.
There is more to this story and some of it you already know but I am only now realizing the burden my father faced in undertaking what was even then a difficult challenge. A family unmoored, a wife without family except for a husband in need and two very small children, a world that was unsettling in all of the little ways. Was there some self-interest there? yes, of course but there was also the desire to see a family – his family find a better life.
Back to Joseph.
How does one travel with such baggage and not lose hope? How does one uproot a family without knowing what is there waiting for you and what would make that risk even remotely bearable? Is it fear of knowing the repercussions of staying or was there something else? There was the mandate from Herod of course but there was something more.
This last week we celebrated the reunification of a Honduran family that represented to many of us a bonafide Christmas miracle. Parents that decided to risk almost everything in the interests of providing a better life for their four children. They left their home in uncertainty and arrived here with even less and did they find hospitality? Were they welcomed? Were they given a place to stay and food to eat in the tradition of other travelers? I don’t know much of the details of their story, but I do have an idea of what happened here in San Francisco where a well-placed banner served as an invitation for one father to come inside and ask for help. That help, always well-intentioned even when we weren’t sure what we were doing bore good fruit and indeed provided for that miracle.
In the same way, Joseph, tired and confused and traveling with a pregnant young woman was desperate when he came to that inn and begged for a place to stay for he and Mary. He didn’t rail against the inequities of a place that could only offer a stable for his family but was grateful for having a place to stay. The innkeeper wasn’t able to offer much but it was enough and I’m sure that like our Alex, that thought was a sustaining one. And somehow, they survived the day and the baby was born and then things got even more confusing for there was yet another angel. Matthew’s gospel says this:
Now after they had left, 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; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
At this point, we are pretty much finished with the story of Joseph, but I know there is more. How can there not be? A holy child, a reconciled family, time on the road before returning and I ponder this Joseph, getting old, watching his son grow up to be a man and yes, he was a Holy Child and even the son of God, but he was also a carpenter’s son, something that the people of his time knew him as. In the same way perhaps that I am my father’s son in all the imperfect way that he did the things that he did. I believe that even when his self-interests dictated his decisions that he was thinking about my mom and myself and my sister Susan. I was decidedly not a holy child, but he loved me and my sister and did what he was able to do and for the right reasons.
And Joseph, Joseph who I think about daily thanks to the images that are captured daily in the news and on social media. Joseph who we know through his many names. Is it Jose of Juan? And his traveling companion, Marta or Maria? Imagine an uncertain young man, traveling with his significant other understanding that to stay where they are is not an option even if it means uprooting everything and risking it all and coming to this place. They are met at the border with chain link fences, concrete walls and people that not only don’t speak their language but choose not to do so. They are hungry, thirsty, penned up in in places that are barely able to contain the multitude and for what exactly? And I believe that is where we come in. Each and every one of us. Today, we are the innkeeper that only has a stable for them to stay in but as stables go, it is a nice one. And yes, we can help with the food and many even offer some babysitting and then there is Google Translate to help us communicate and no, none of this is as good as we’d like it to be but what we offer is good.
Our time as a sanctuary church has been an important one and one that to me defines who we are as a people. And we learn and the next family that appears at the door will be welcomed and we will make sure that Joseph or Juan or Jose will know that. And for a brief moment, that angelic dream will be easy enough to comprehend.
This morning I think about Joseph and all the other Josephs. The Josephs that are without food because the little they have goes to their family. The Josephs who are behind bars for the sin of not speaking English, for desiring a better life for those who they hold most dear. For the name less and the faceless that seek what we have in plenty when they have little.
We ask these things in your name.