Sunday, January 2, 2011

Homily for the Second Sunday after Christmas


Matthew 2:13-23; 1 Peter 4:12-19; Genesis 46:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

On Christmas Eve, Christians the whole world over heard the precious and familiar story of Jesus’ birth as St. Luke has recorded it in the Gospel that bears his name. St. Luke’s infancy narrative is by far the most familiar and beloved, but it is not the only one. St. Matthew, too, has a narrative of Jesus’ birth, though it is much more compact and seems to serve the specific purpose of demonstrating that the circumstances of Jesus’ birth serve to fulfill specific Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. And, if you attended Divine Service on Christmas Day, then you also heard the very succinct and highly theological birth narrative presented by St. John. However, few Christians are likely aware that there is a fourth narrative of Jesus’ birth in the Holy Scriptures and that it is to be found in the Revelation of Jesus Christ, chapter twelve:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.

In stark contrast to the silent and holy night of our imaginations, there is an unseen reality that permeates the story of our Savior’s birth, indeed that was in the world before the incarnation and that remains in the world today, the dragon. Satan, that ancient serpent and tempter, was poised to devour the Christ child upon birth. Indeed, it seems that murderous Herod was but a shadow of the true face of evil as he slaughtered the innocents of Bethlehem in his attempt to destroy Jesus. However, having been warned by the angel of Herod’s furious intent, Joseph packed up his family and fled into Egypt.

Egypt had been the ironic refuge of God’s people since the time of Jacob. Though the Egyptians were pagans who worshiped the sun god Ra, the creator god Amun, and the mother god Isis, along with the Pharaoh himself, God assured Jacob saying, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again.” And God did indeed make Israel into a great nation in Egypt. But in their prosperity, the people forgot about their homeland in Canaan to the east, and the Egyptians forgot about God’s mercy during the administration of Joseph, and God delivered the Israelites unto slavery.

Egypt is, at once, symbolic of both a place of refuge and sanctuary and the place of enslavement and captivity. Egypt, and the surrounding desert wilderness, is the place where Satan dwells, whether in the form of Pharaoh, wild beasts, or the tempter himself. It is the place of waiting in patient faith and trust for the Lord. It is the place where nurture and protection comes from the Lord alone. God sends His people into Egypt that they might learn to trust in Him for all things. God allows His people to dwell in the midst of tyrants and tempters, war, pestilence, and death that they might find comfort, peace, and hope in Him alone.

Thus, St. Peter writes to you, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Since the first Israel, Jacob and his descendents, proved themselves unfaithful to the Lord, God sent His Son Jesus, the New Israel, down into Egypt that the prophecy might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my Son.” Jesus brings to perfection what old Israel could not. He is the faithful Israel, the embodiment of the people of God. He offers His perfect and holy life in place of our own. He submits Himself to persecution and suffering in order to save us.

Therefore, we should not think it strange when we who are in Christ experience trials because of the faith. Rather, we rejoice to share in Christ’s sufferings, knowing that we will also share in His glory. For, it is still out of Egypt that God calls His son; that is to say that it is out of trial and tribulation that God calls you into His glorious presence and life: It is only captives that can be freed. It is only the suffering who can be comforted. And it is only sinners who can be saved.

And the Lord who promised to go down into Egypt with Jacob and all Israel has come down into our Egypt in the person of Jesus. He has made a blessed exchange with us, taking our sin and rebellion upon Himself and dying our death but giving us His righteousness, holiness, and life. He is with us now in this wilderness full of temptations, tribulations, pestilence, and death to forgive and renew, to bind up our wounds and strengthen our faith, promising still, “I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again.” It is but a little while before this corruptible puts on incorruption. Until then, we have His Word, His Absolution, His Baptism, and His Holy Body and Precious Blood. Therefore, let us entrust our souls to our faithful Creator while doing good.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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