Summary: First Sunday after Christmas, Year A -- God had Mary and Joseph take Jesus down to Egypt. When God sometimes takes us out of our comfort zone, it is part of his gracious plan for us in Christ.
Here we are at the end of one year and ready to begin another. The readings for this morning are for the First Sunday after Christmas, and the Gospel tells us about the trip that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus took down to Egypt. It wasn’t a vacation. They weren’t just “going south for the winter.” They were running for the life of their newborn baby boy because King Herod wanted him dead!
The wise men had, without knowing it, tipped Herod off to the birth of a new king for Israel. Not understanding what kind of king Jesus really was, a jealous and probably insane King Herod wanted to eliminate what he thought was a threat to his throne. When the wise men returned to their country by another route without reporting back to him, he was furious. In an act of horrible and senseless cruelty, he ordered all the two-year old boys in Bethlehem put to death.
Meanwhile, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Earlier, an angel had told him in a similar dream not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because the Holy Spirit had conceived the child she was about to bear. Thank God that Joseph, described as a righteous man, heeded the angel’s advice! He stayed with Mary and gave her child the name Jesus, because “he would save his people from their sins.” So just as Joseph had heeded the angel’s advice before, he now also heeds the angel’s warning once again. He gets his little family up that very night, they quickly pack their belongings, and they leave behind the comfort of familiar surroundings in Bethlehem to go to a distant and foreign land. They flee to Egypt.
What can we learn from this event in our Lord’s life as we begin another year? For one thing, don’t be surprised if sometimes God takes you out of your “comfort zone”. A comfort zone is a place where everything is familiar, comfortable, and safe. It is a place where nothing changes and everything stays the same. Sometimes a sense of continuity is good. For example, in the church, our lessons follow a predictable pattern as we progress throughout the church year. We can learn from the events of the past, because, as they say, “history often repeats itself.”
When God sent Jesus, he was careful to maintain a sense of continuity with the past. When Jesus was born, it fulfilled prophecy after prophecy. Isaiah predicted the miraculous birth: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us.” Micah predicted the birthplace, Bethlehem: “out of you [Bethlehem] will come a ruler who will be the Shepherd of my people Israel.” Even though what God was about to do with Jesus would be like nothing the people had ever seen before, not one word of the Old Testament Scriptures would be broken or changed by his coming. The people could still count on God’s Word being true, no matter what.
Not everything is as dependable. As we look ahead to the coming year, we realize that things probably won’t be exactly the same as last year. That can be a good thing! I’m sure there are some things about this past year that we might WANT to be different next year! Hopefully, we won’t make some of the same mistakes. That’s why God’s forgiveness is so important in our lives each and every day. We can bury the all mistakes of the past in the vast ocean of his boundless love for us. We don’t have to be locked into the bad habits of the past. We can make a fresh, brand new start, “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead” by his grace. His mercies in Christ are new every morning!
As I look back at my life, however, I realize just how many things have changed from a few years ago—and not always for the better. Even just year ago, who would have thought that all our lives would be so changed by an event like what took place on September 11? When we as Christians try to make a difference in the world, we are painfully aware that it doesn’t always work to simply do the same thing from one year to the next. While God’s message of love for a fallen world remains constant and unchanged, there are always new ways we can demonstrate and communicate that love more effectively. Sometimes that means leaving behind what is familiar and comfortable. It isn’t easy. But it’s critically important.
Our seminaries, where pastors are trained, are great for teaching the basics of doctrine and Biblical interpretation. But it is impossible for the teachers at the seminary to prepare students for every situation they will ever face as a pastor. Sometimes all a pastor can do is simply trust that God will lead and guide him as he goes—giving him the words and the wisdom he needs.