The Sunday after
Matthew 2:13-23 (16-18), The Birthday Party is Over
Rev. Dr. Al Franzmeier
Do you know why we just celebrated the birth of Jesus on December 25? It all started with the fact that many believers once thought the world was created on March 25. This was arrived at through the a literal interpretation of the Biblical genealogies and some questionable logic. By the mid 200ís, some churches also celebrated March 25 as the day Jesus was crucified. In so doing they connected creation with redemption and the beginning of the new creation in Christ Jesus. Then they took the next step, linking His conception ( The Annunciation; when the angel announced to Mary that she was to be Jesusí mother) with March 25. The evidence for all this is very weak but nevertheless, is quite fascinating. It seems profound to think that the world was created, Jesus was conceived and our redemption was completed all on the same calendar day, March 25. In this we have a wonderful glimpse into Godís great plan for us all.
Now the next step for Christians was to discover the date of Jesusí birth. Believers plugged the date of Christís birth in exactly nine months after the date of his believed conception on March 25. Thus, they arrived at December 25 as the celebration of the birth of our Lord, Jesus the Christ. Christmas was celebrated in Rome by the year 336. Pagan Rome had a great feast at the end of December. It celebrated the winter solstice, the time when days began to grow longer. That feast varied in length as did the customs, but it was around the end of December and the beginning of January. As Christianity spread among the Romans in those early centuries they replaced Saturnalia with the Christ Mass. And ever since then we believers have celebrated Dec. 25 as the birth date of our Lord.
We still have two kinds of celebrations going on, the one carried on by the pagan world around us and the one we Christians continue this Sunday after the Christ Mass. For many of us this is a time of family gatherings and parties, a time of exchanging gifts and having parties. So we speak of the twelve days of Christmas from Dec. 25 to January 6.
However, the celebration of Christmas quickly fades away. The parties come to an end. The gifts are put away or used up. The realities of sin and suffering in this world confront us anew as we get back to our routine lives. In the new year before us we continue the perilous journey, but we are comforted by the promises of our Lord to be always with us, guiding and leading us safely home.
I. THE REALITY OF SIN CONFRONTS US
The Holy Family had to flee for their lives
It seems that Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus were in Bethlehem for at least a year. This is based upon the accounts of the Wise Men who came to visit the child. Also it is also based upon King Herodís plan to kill all the male children two and under. By this time Jesus was probably saying some words and walking. In any event, Joseph was met by Godís angel in his dream. Joseph was well aware of angels bringing messages and had seen what happened when he obeyed their commands. So he took Baby Jesus and Mother Mary and started for Egypt by night. The Egyptian Coptic Christian church still preserves to this day stories about the journey of the Holy Family in their country.
Our Lord knows our needs
Important for us to know this story. Illustrates the kind of loving care the Lord has for every family. We believers are his children. He knows when we are in danger. He sends his angels to protect us. He also sends messengers to warn us of dangers to our lives, not only physical dangers, but also spiritual dangers. Often these messages come from fellow believers, from pastors and teachers, family and friends. But let us also leave open the possibility of angels coming to us in a dream just as one did to Joseph. In any event, please know that your heavenly Father knows your needs and has plans for your safe keeping and for your life.
II. BUT GOD HAS A PLAN
He cared for the Holy Family
God had a plan for the Holy Family. They were to stay in Egypt until Herod died. The very word for death implies that God had a plan for Herod. He knew how long he would allow Herod to live and when he would die. So at that point, another angel appeared. Go back to the land of Israel. Notice how Bible uses the term Israel. This is the land promised to Godís chosen people. Holy Family went back, but since Herodís son, Archelaus, was now king of that region, an angel warned them again by a dream. So they returned to their former home, Nazareth, where it all started several years before. There Joseph took up his trade as a carpenter again and Jesus grew up and learned his fatherís trade.
He also cares for us
These details remind us of Godís detailed plan for our safe keeping and for our final salvation. His plan began at creation. It was announced in hidden manner to Adam and Eve after their fall into sin. Step by step we can follow it throughout the pages of the Old Testament. With the birth of Jesus the Plan came together. So in the Gospel we follow the Plan from Jesusí birth to his crucifixion and his great resurrection from the dead. All this was so we might be freed from the guilt and punishment we deserve because of our sins. Now in these days the Spirit of God has called us to faith in Jesus. And walking in that faith we are certain that we are Godís children and we shall inherit life without end in the new heavens and new earth he has planned. Meanwhile we remain under his care and guiding.
III. THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH
Joseph and Mary followed His guidance in faith
As weíve seen Joseph and Mary believed that. They fled to Egypt. They remained there. They returned to Nazareth. They did all of this because they believed they were being led. They believed they were part of Godís greater plan to save the world. Remember how Mary sang:
ďMy spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For he has regarded the lowly state of his maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.Ē Luke 1:47-49.
Our task is to follow their example
We also are part of Godís great plan to bring salvation to the world. As he guided Mary and Joseph, so he also guides and leads us. Our task is to follow the humble example of faith set by Mary and Joseph. Perhaps you have heard about Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch lady imprisoned by the Nazis in the Second World War. You may have read her books in which she tells about her experiences. After getting out of the German concentration camp, she traveled around the world to visit and witness to prisoners in many countries. She had a special ministry to them since she had been imprisoned herself. In the process, she also visited many missions and was amazed to find that Protestant women missionaries outnumbered the men. Her comment was,
ďI am sure that when the Lord called different men to go, they answered, ĎHere am I, send my sister.Ēí
And follow wherever the Lord leads
You may not be called to foreign mission work, but be assured, you are part of Godís plan and he does want you to carry the Good News of the Savior to people who do not know him or who have lost their faith. There are just as many ways to do that as there are people present here. Let me tell you a personal example. After I retired, I joined a little creative writing group, because I want to learn more about how to do that. Surprisinglyóor not surprisinglyóI now find myself slowly becoming a friend to some who have lost their faith. I find many opportunities to witness to Jesus in this little group. And this is the same for us all. We only need to keep our eyes open. The Lord will lead us and wherever he leads, there we will discover people with whom we may share the Good News of Jesus.
The plans of God cannot be overcome. King Herod could not harm the Holy Child. The heavenly Father had a plan and he made certain that plan of salvation would be carried out through Jesus, His Son. Now we are part of Godís plan. We are his children, also cared for and protected. We are also part of his plan to carry the Good News of Jesus into the darkness of this world.
One mother tells about her five-year-old daughter, Katie. One afternoon Katie was singing a Scripture song they had recently learned in their family. Katieís parents listened proudly as she came to a verse about becoming blameless. Katie confidently sang out,
"Do everything without arguing, that you may become BRAINLESS and pure, children of God.Ē
Did Katie misunderstand? Perhaps, but perhaps not. It is not up to our brains to make the plans. All our plans are in Godís hands. Our task is to be like Joseph and Mary. Wherever you lead, Lord, there will I go, that will I do.
And at the end of our journey there is a place for us in the heavenly city, the Fatherís house where we shall discover even greater plans for endless ages yet to come.
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