Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, "Arise and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him." And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, "OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON."
Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi. Then that which was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled, saying, "A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE."
But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, "Arise and take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Israel; for those who sought the Child's life are dead." And he arose and took the Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he departed for the regions of Galilee, and came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."
Sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas 01/03/21
Spoken Through the Prophets
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
God has chosen to work in us and with us as a sort of partnership. He does it all, and it is by His power, and in His good time, and according to His will and plan – and yet He works it in such a way that we participate - and participate in a meaningful way.
Let me give you a familiar example: God creates faith. He chooses us, by His grace and for His own reasons and purposes. He then causes us to hear the Word preached, and by that Word, He creates faith in us by His power and His will, not any of our own. He gives us the desire to believe and the ability to believe and the faithfulness which we possess, and then He let us do the believing. We hear, we respond, we feel, we think, we believe, we choose to act, although by His power and guidance through Word and Sacrament and by the working of the Holy Spirit. It feels to us like we are the ones doing it all - and yet God tells us clearly that He is the One working it all out. It is kind of thrilling, when you contemplate it, that God is at work in you, and yet God is calling on you to work, to believe, to feel, and to care. He makes you want to listen and makes the preacher preach, and gives us the high and holy privilege of participating together with God in the work of the Church and of faith. It is hard to think clearly about it, and even more difficult to speak clearly about it, so I hope you are following my meaning and sensing the wonder of it all.
Our text brings this partnership to mind as we study the account of Mary and Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt to avoid Herod and the killing squads - what the Church has come to call "the Slaughter of the Innocents". In our text, Joseph and Mary are partners in the work of keeping the Baby Jesus safe, and partners in fulfilling the prophecies of old. Look how often our text says something very much like, "That what was spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled" That is the wonder of how God works with us, and that is our theme, this morning. So I invite you to consider the flight into Egypt, with the theme, Spoken by the Prophets.
The Wise Men came to visit Jesus. God arranged it. He left enough clear in the Old Testament Prophecies, that when these ancient astrologers (that is what they were, among other things) noticed the new and bright star, they could identify it with the constellation and the Old Testament prophecies and they came to see this new king, the Messiah. I am sure that they figured that if they could figure it all out, surely the whole people of Israel were delirious with joy over the birth. Obviously, they were in error on that point.
When they left, God spoke to them in a dream and sent them home by another route. Then He spoke to Joseph again, also in a dream, telling him what to do, and why, and where to go. God had prepared the world for such nation hopping by seating the Roman Empire over all these lands. He set the stage with the bringing of the Wise men, and then He guided Joseph by the hand to get Jesus out of Bethlehem, and into Egypt. And all of this was briefly foretold by the prophets.
Now God knew what was going to happen long before it did. He could see the circumstances of the holy family and the dangers that hovered around, and He had it all planned for and under control, even though it may have seemed and felt differently to Mary and Joseph at the time. That is one of the lessons of this account. God knows, and He can handle it! It doesn't matter what "IT" is, God knows, and He has a plan. He could see what was coming for Jesus so far in advance that it was spoken through the prophets. He also spoke about the rescue through the prophets.
Note, too, that God doesn't plan just fun and easy for His people. Mary and Joseph did not ask to be chosen for their roles as the parents, but they were. Then God put them through the terror and the uncertainty of the pregnancy, and then the tax, then the Wise Men, then the attempted assault by Herod the Great, then having to move back and living in fear of Archelaus. It sounds much easier today than it was. When they were in the middle of it, they were in the middle of fear and stress and worry, to be sure. So, God may ask you to go where you don't really want to go and allow you to face troubles that don't seem to be fair, and others aren't facing, and may not appear to have any real connection with the mission of the Church or with your own life of faith. Trust God. If it is happening, it is connected - and God knows and has planned how to rescue and how to protect you and how to save you.
God could have taken care of Jesus without moving Mary and Joseph. God could have stopped Herod cold. He could have chosen to do things in other ways, but the reality of it is, He did not. And that is our reality many times, as well. We like the choices that we can see and feel the benefits of - like choosing us to be Christians or filling our pockets with good things. Every other choice is just as good, just not as fun, perhaps, and God has the plan fixed so that what should happen will happen if we are faithful.
The prophets never got to actually witness what they wrote about - and Peter tells us in His Epistle that they spent time trying to figure out the who and the where and the when of it all-and God revealed to them that the messages they were giving were not for their benefit - but ours. They had their benefit too, don't worry about that. Those faithful men are with Him in glory even now. But the work of the prophet was rarely for the comfort or the benefit of the prophet. They were like men laying out the pieces of a giant puzzle, that they dearly wanted to put together - but they were only allowed to see part of the puzzle and some of the pieces and were to be content with the truth that their part was all they were going to get, and it wasn't going to make a lot of sense necessarily for them.
The prophets, however, got to do their part in the partnership between God and those He was saving. If they had not, we would not have known that Jesus was really who He is. The prophecies are like identification for us. And so did the Wise Men, and Mary and Joseph. Each had an important role, and trouble for the sake of it. Herod took the no-nonsense approach of the ancient world to potential threats to one's power - he killed all of the children who were possibly old enough to be the promised King in the entire region around Bethlehem because the Wise Men visited somewhere in that region. In spite of Herod's strategy, God kept the Baby Jesus safe. He can do the same for you, even when your adversaries are really nasty and really determined. Trust God - that is part of the message of our text, this morning.
The slaughter of those children was unfortunate, but it shows us that Jesus grew up in the real world, not some faerie tale. It also fulfilled the prophecy. That wasn't something God wanted to happen, but something He could see was going to happen when Jesus was born, and so He spoke of it through the prophets. Ramah is the region around Bethlehem, and it is called "Rachel" because Rachel was buried there. It is a grisly testament to the vile evil of humankind, and to the frantic determination of the old, evil foe to stop the gracious plan of God for our salvation. But He failed, just as the prophets foretold.
Finally, when Herod the Great had passed away - which historians tell us happened in 4 B.C. - God summoned Joseph and Mary back to Israel. He did it to fulfill what He had spoken through the prophets. The fact that Matthew tells us about Joseph's fears of Archelaus, the first son of Herod to reign in Judea, underlines the suspicion that Mary and Joseph originally had intended to move away from Nazareth, and settle, possibly in Bethlehem. The fear of Joseph caused him to do precisely what had been spoken through the prophet.
Mary and Joseph were partners with God in the work of bringing Jesus into the world and bringing Jesus up. - and they did their part faithfully so that all that was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled. Even though they were chosen by God to be parents of the Son of God, come in the flesh, their lot was not easy. Even though they were guarded and guided by God, they did not pass through life without fears. But they listened to the Word of God and acted accordingly. They were among God's faithful people - and in spite of all of the obstacles and dangers they faced, God brought them through.
We don't have the angel Gabriel telling us what to do - nor are we having dreams to guide us in our real estate transactions or our dwelling choices. But we do have the Word of God. God tells us what we must know, and He creates faith in us to believe - and we are left only with the doing of it. We can choose to hear the Word of God and to receive it in the visible form of the Sacraments. Our part is to listen, just as it was for Mary and Joseph, and believe all that God tells us. Our part is to do faithfully what God lays before us - and since we have no direct, personal messages giving us specific directions, we have to pray and think about it, and trust God to guide us, and act in ways that are faithful to the Word and to God's grace. Like the Wise Men, we have to face the reality of the world around us, from the foundation of God's Word and act in ways that seem reasonable and appropriate to us in the light of the Word.
And we can learn from our text to trust God, and not fear or expect the worst. If it were to the purposes of God, He would have been able to have a Scripture written about us and our troubles and our testings and our faithfulness. We just need to know that God is still at work and that we are the present-day partners in the work He is doing. He will fund the mission through your stewardship. He will share the Gospel through your speaking it to your neighbors, friends, and even your adversaries. He will teach you by preaching to you His Word through faithful pastors. He will give you faith and love and wisdom - and leave it to you to do the believing and loving and exercising wisdom which is rooted in the grace and love of God, the forgiveness of your sins, and the promises of resurrection and everlasting life in glory through Jesus Christ. He will give you the will and the actual doing of these things, and share with you the high and holy honor of doing the works which God gives you to do while it is still day before the night comes when no man can work.
You are partnered in this holy work with God. He doesn't need you, but He loves you and shares this work with you, to His glory and your salvation. It is just like in our text, when He shared it with the prophets, and Mary, and Joseph and caused it all to be spoken through the prophets.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)