The Second Sunday after Christmas Day
ALMIGHTY God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word; Grant that the same light enkindled in our hearts may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
“THE Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.”
THE HOLY GOSPEL
St. Matthew 2:19-23
19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. 21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: 23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.
As our Prayer of Collect attests, God, at Christmas, has poured out into our Cups of Faith the “new Light of His Incarnate Word” – so much so that our cups runneth over. The Light was eternally the same unchanging Light of Christ that existed before the worlds and heavens were made; yet, it came down to us to share in our same pains and sufferings – and more. We can know God the Father because we have seen and heard God the Son.
It is a mystery known only to God that only the meek and humble of heart can hear and understand the Voice of the Spirit that speaks the Gospel that heals, that frees, that cheers, and that liberates from our self-imposed prison captivity. As our Epistle proclaims, we are, as well, to proclaim – the acceptable year of our Lord. That Year has been published in our calendars ever since His birth. It was 2014 years ago (Anno Domini) since that momentous fulfillment of the Word. Despite all efforts to erase the meaning of that date, it is recognized by the world, in spite of themselves, as the division of time for our computation of the time scale in years. Those who would extinguish the fires of truth by re-naming the calendar dates with such ridiculous labels as C.E. (Common error to supplant Christ Birth of A.D.) and B.C.E. (Before the Common Error to blur the distinction of B.C. – before Christ) are hard-pressed to explain WHY they must use the zero year (Christ birth) as a starting point. Why not allow the great truth of history to prevail and simply admit that the coming of Christ was such a climactic event as to divide our time scale in half? How imbecilic is THAT!
Now we come to the Gospel text for the day. Please note how seamless are the lines that join the Prayer of Collect, the Epistle, and the Gospel together. The traditional lectionary has been the greatest tool in our Church Year to teach the whole storyline of Christ and His Church.
Herod, the evil king who had slaughtered the children of Bethlehem (2 years of age and younger) in his insane attempt to destroy Christ, has died. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, his death was one of extreme suffering. But that is not a concern of the Gospel. All men come to a day of dying, even kings and rulers – so Herod died the eternal death and is paying the wages for his sins.
Joseph has fled into Egypt with the Child Jesus with His mother, Mary. He was warned of the danger of Herod by the Angel of the Lord following the visit by the Wise Men. “And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” (Matt 2:13) It is worthy of comment that kings, rulers, and governments have always tried to destroy the Person of Jesus and any remembrance of His Name. There was no room for Christ in a suitable lodging of Bethlehem, and there is no room for Him in Judah either. The sword lurks the hills and wilderness areas of that land in search of a small child to destroy Him. 19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt.” Long years (perhaps six) Joseph and the mother of Jesus tarried in Egypt awaiting the counsel of the Lord to return home. They never complained or pressed God, but patiently waited during that sojourn for the Word of the Lord and His directing Light. Just as the Wise Men had patiently followed the Light of the Star, so must we patiently bear exile and danger until the Lord gives us His Will and Word.
“Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.” The precise wording of this verse is quite illuminating. You will note that the angel did not say “take your Son and His mother.” The reason is because Joseph was not the father of Jesus. The Father of Jesus was God the Father. Notice the insidious scheme to undermine this truth in new bible versions. In the Received Text bibles we read from Luke 2:33 – “And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him.” Now hear the great lie propagated by the NIV in the same verse: “The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.” Jesus had no earthly father!
So Joseph and Mary waited upon the Lord for those long years in Egypt. How often do we rush matters according to our own schedule and disregard the patience that God would have us practice. “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” (Psalms 27:14) “Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the LORD our God, until that he have mercy upon us.” (Psalms 123:2) “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) This wise counsel is repeated in a plethora of other Scripture verses as well. When it is the Lord’s Time, it is the RIGHT time!
Once the Lord has spoken, there should be no lingering procrastination – we must be up and at the doing of His will. 21 “And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.” There was no questioning of what awaited in Israel – simply prompt obedience on the part of Joseph. A Godly woman will ALWAYS follow the spiritual leadership of a Godly man. I lay the fault of almost every failed marriage at the feet of the man who does not follow the Will of God in loving his wife and providing spiritual leadership. Mary immediately went with Joseph though the Angel had not spoken directly to her.
The Christian is never without dangers and challenges. Though Herod is dead, his son, Archelaus, now ruled in his stead. We never reach a point of absolute physical security in a world that is ruled by the enemies of God. We are Soldiers of the Cross – Christian men, women, and children. We wear our uniforms openly and fly the banner of Christ before us. But the wicked ‘Sniper on the Hill’ is forever vigilant to destroy us if we unwittingly expose ourselves to his aim. We must be gentle as lambs in our dealings with others, but wise as serpents to counter the threat of the enemy. “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.“ (Matt 10:16)
Once we have Christ, we often must leave the place of our accustomed living never to return. Joseph did not feel safe in returning to Judah, but God never leads half-way. Just as God had counseled Joseph to leave Egypt, He also warned him to avoid Judah. 22 “But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee.” It is amazing to me how every step Joseph took from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt to Galilee were dictated so precisely by God. Joseph had keen ears to hear the voice of the Lord, and he heard that Voice. We, too, must avoid the mad rages of public society and get to a quiet place where we can have a keen ear to hear the Voice of God.
Of what significance is this little village to which Jesus was carried called ‘Nazareth?’ The Hebrew root for the name seems to derive from Isaiah 11:1 – “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11:1) The word for Branch (or twig) given here in the Hebrew is ‘rcn(Netser’. Jesus is the Branch that comes forth out of the stem of Jesse and, eventually, King David. But He also has the title of the “Anointed One of the Lord” (separated). In the Greek, the word is ‘Nazwrai’oß Nazoraios – one separated. Nazareth was as insignificant as it was small. It was located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee – about equa-distant from both. It was like nothing more than a twig of the land of Israel – small and unimportant. The little town of Bethlehem was not very important either until it became the birthplace of Christ – now it is remembered forever. Neither was the crude manger important until it held the Baby Jesus – now everyone knows about the blessed manger. But Nazareth, though unknown for its insignificance beforehand, would now become known for all time and eternity for the blessed Lord who had lived there. In the mind of man, nothing good, or important, could come from such a remote little hamlet; but in the Providence of God, something of supreme importance came out of Nazareth. “And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.” (John 1:46) The voice of the Lord may seem unimportant to us until we have stopped to listen and to heed that Voice….then it becomes the most important Voice we have ever heard. Have you heard that Voice? “Come and See!”