Summary: Focusing on the "blank years" of so many of the Bible’s saints, including most of the life-time of our Savior, this sermon exhorts to diligence in well-doing, until God brings us to that time for which all our lives are meant.
Second Sunday in Christmas
One of the most enduring stock-comic situations in modern fiction and cinema is the spectacle of a family traveling in a car. The father is behind the wheel. The mother – looking slightly harried and worried – is in the front passenger seat; and, three, maybe four, children are crowded into the back. You know how the conversation in this automobile plays out. The children are calling out to the father, “Are we there yet? How much longer until we get there, Daddy?” The parents are either cajoling the children into silence, or barking back at them.
When we are presented with this scene in a film or a story, it is ONLY this scene we get to see. The story-teller does not show us the lengthy passage of time before the children begin hectoring the father about whether or not they have arrived. The REASON we don’t see this is because the story tellers know only too well that WE would have little patience with that sort of thing. It’s enough that we simply note the there is a long, boring passage of time, at least from the perspective of the children in the back seat. The story teller then marks the point where the children begin to lose their patience (as if children had much in the first place).
Now, this kind of situation is nothing new. We have one before us in the two lessons we have heard read a short while ago. The first passage is from Isaiah 61, in one of the sections of Isaiah known to commentators as one of the Servant Songs. These are passages of Hebrew poetry, and the singer is the Servant of the Lord, a messianic figure in latter half of the Book of Isaiah. It was this passage from Isaiah which Jesus read in his home town of Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry. And after he read it, he said to them all, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
This passage in Isaiah is like the announcement of a journey to a destination. But from the time it was announced, from the time that Isaiah penned this song of the coming Servant of the Lord, it was many centuries until Jesus said in that Synagogue service, “We have arrived.” “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, in the history of the Messiah – the many prophecies concerning his coming and his mission – there were long, long, long periods of time between events which moved that history forward in a way that people could see.
There is another example of this kind of thing in the second lesson we heard read. Soon after the Wise men depart, an angel instructs Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt. In the lesson from Luke we heard read a while ago, an angel of the Lord tells Joseph to return to Israel. Let’s stop right there for a moment and note that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus spent at least a couple of years down in Egypt, maybe one or two more. Have you ever heard a meditation or a devotional about those years in Egypt? Imagine how different things must have seemed to Mary and Joseph during those years. First of all, we have angels appearing to Mary and Joseph, then more angels blasting the good news to shepherds when Mary’s son is born. Then these powerful, exotic, and wealthy foreigners from the East arrive with their large caravan and give expensive gifts to the baby, after which they sneak away. And an angel comes yet again to tell Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt.
And, then what? Well, nothing! For two years, maybe three or four years. Nothing. I don’t know what they did during those years in Egypt, but whatever it was, it certainly must have felt anticlimactic. Before the angel tells Joseph to return to Israel, I’m quite sure Mary and Joseph were wondering how long they were going to be cooling their heels in Egypt.
But, the day finally came, and the angel directed their steps to a city in Galilee called Nazareth. The very next words in Matthew’s Gospel read like this: 1In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea 2and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Did you notice what was NOT mentioned? How long a time is there between Joseph’s resettling in Nazareth and the beginning John the Baptist’s ministry? How about 30 years or so? Nothing is said about those in Matthew, or Mark, or John. Luke shows us one episode from Jesus’ boyhood, when his family went to Jerusalem for the Passover. But, other than that, those 30 years are blank in the Scriptural record.