Summary: Even when we are in a place of exile, we must demonstrate unwavering obedience to God just as Joseph did. Joseph could not see all of God’s plan except for the next step.
Poor baby Jesus! He’s only a small child, and already his life is in danger, as we heard in the passage from Matthew 2:13-23 earlier in this morning’s service. This passage is an example of how the events in the New Testament Gospels are the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. For example, the fact that Joseph is called to lead Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt parallels Jeremiah 31:15, where the Ephraimites were led into exile after the fall of Judah and Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC. Jesus was led out of Egypt to save his people, just like Moses led the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery. The warning God gave to Joseph in Matthew 2:20 is a parallel to Exodus 4:18-20. Joseph made a home for his family in Nazareth, which was the fulfillment of the prophecy from an unknown source, possibly Judges 13:5, Isaiah 11:1 or Isaiah 53:2.
This fits in with the purpose of Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel was written for a Jewish audience. He wanted to prove to his audience that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah Matthew shows how Jesus initiated new people of faith in whom the salvation history of Israel becomes a new salvation history that is open to everyone.
God’s plan of salvation was opposed from the start. With the birth of Jesus, salvation emerges within us and within our problem-filled society. Salvation wrestles with our enemies. Jesus becomes Emmanuel-God with us-so he can lift us, especially when we battle the forces of evil. Matthew states in his Gospel that the Old Testament prophets foretold that Jesus and his followers would be hated, and they are still hated today. Jesus and the disciples often clashed with the establishment. Jesus and his disciples were persecuted. All of the early disciples except for John were put to death. It is appropriate that the term Nazarene is used to describe Jesus. The term Nazarene is a synonym for someone who is hated or despised, and people from that region of Israel were characterized in that manner. Herod’s murder of innocent children in Bethlehem led to the death of the hope people had for the future. God’s leading of the Holy Family into exile reminds us that the hope of God’s providence is the answer to the hopelessness of evil.
Joseph and Mary had to let go of a lot of things when their faith journey took them into Egypt. They left behind everything they knew, including their deepest comfort level. Sometimes we feel the same way when we have to make changes in our lives. After all, old habits are hard to break, but the only way we can grow and change as Christians is to do uncomfortable things especially when God asks us to do them. If we refuse to make changes, we turn our backs on God, the ultimate source of comfort.
Sometimes we only give in and turn our lives over to God when we are broken and without hope. Sometimes we only let God take the wheel of our lives when we are hopelessly lost. Sometimes it is only in our brokenness that God can mend us and make us whole. When God called the Holy Family to go to Egypt, he saved them from evil, and he can save us from our own place of exile today. Sometimes God puts us in a place of exile to protect us from someone or something, or to teach us something. That place of exile where we are does not have to be the place where we spend the rest of our lives.
Even when we are in a place of exile, we must demonstrate unwavering obedience to God just as Joseph did. Joseph could not see all of God’s plan except for the next step. We can’t always see the fullness of God’s plan any better than Joseph could, but like Joseph, we can be assured that our faithfulness will lead to great things even if we can’t see them.