Journeying: Matthew 2:11–23
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service over the Internet.
The recording is long, including the reading of the Bible passage by Gill Morgan.
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On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’
When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
‘A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.’
After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.’
So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Matthew 2:11–23 (NIVUK)
The wise men, the Magi who came to visit Jesus, having journeyed following the star from its rising. Of course, we know that life is a journey. The songs of praise that we have sung today and listened to today are all about the praise of God and how our relationship with God is not stagnant but pulls us on into the next chapter of whatever the journey happens to be. That’s part of the point of the wise men’s journey. But it didn’t end after they reached the climax, their destination of worshipping Jesus, the King of the Jews.
As I was putting the finishing touches of this message together, I attended a funeral online. It was of one of my former colleagues who I helped to train as a careers adviser, and who, after many years of working together, actually became my line manager for a while. That’s the thing about journeys, isn’t it? You never know what surprises they will throw up, they will bring. It’s always worth travelling well and in good relationship with others.
I don’t know about you but I quite like travelling. Not that those of us in Tier 4 are allowed to do much of it at the moment of course. I like driving especially, it gives me that sense of freedom. I’m not very good at walking but in the right company and at the right speed the occupation can be lots of fun too, in spite of some pain that it might offer at the end. I used to enjoy cycling and I believe that it’s something that many more people will want to do as they return to work, instead of using public transports in the year ahead, according to the news reports that I’ve read.
I’ve only ridden a horse once and I think that was quite enough, thank you. I’m sure there are many other methods by which people can travel and take journeys. Someone was telling me just this week, that they will never get to visit their family in Perth in Australia because it’s too far for them to travel now. I’m not a massive fan of flying, particularly take off, but even that pales into insignificance when I anticipate landing at my destination. Perhaps warm and sunny climes or the promise of being reunited with friend or family.
Journeying. It’s something which we all do, even if it’s from one room to the next at the moment, which is about as far as we’re allowed to go. Moving around is usually for an occasion or a purpose. Be it for exercise, to visit someone or somewhere, and it usually involves activity, a decision. The wise men made a gargantuan effort to move, whether by horse or camel or on foot, we really don’t know but they followed the star. We don’t know much about their journey but we know that they obeyed what sense they had about the star being especially special. They followed even when it seemed a ludicrous idea because wisdom is not just about using your brain, it involves following your heart.
Andrew Faraday reminded us a few weeks ago that angels and dreams form a huge part of the Christmas narrative. Mary has a visit from an angel. An angel then appears to Joseph asking him not to divorce her. Then later on the wise men have a revelation by dream to go home a different way to avoid King Herod. Whilst Joseph has another dream, warning him to flee to Egypt.
It made me wonder, what happened to the wise men after they got home? Was that it? They’d seen the newborn King of the Jews, but did they return to whatever their normal lives were, or had the journey of a lifetime made such an impact that they were transformed. Similarly with Joseph, the man of God who agreed with Mary to bring up the Christ child. How could journeying to Egypt, the place the Old Testament knew for slavery and imprisonment and hard-living, be part of living the dream to raise the Messiah for Israel?
It seems to me that on the bigger scale, the Christmas story is not only about the little town of Bethlehem, or the country of Israel. It was about the whole world. The impact that this little boy, who so far as we know, never travelled very far as a man. Egypt may have been as far as he went because his life was endangered due to King Herod’s passion, that he should be the only King of the Jews and decided upon an infanticide, killing every boy under the age of two years of age because of his own determination to be top-dog.
What incredible disgusting audacity and cruelty one person would inflict upon a generation. How unimaginable it would be for this to have taken place house-by-house, village-by-village, by evil Romans on the orders of King Herod. Yet even today, people have to flee their own countries, not because they wish to but because they have to for fear of death because of their religious convictions, their sexual identity, their colour of their skin, or their political persuasion.
I wonder what kind of welcome did Mary, Joseph, and Jesus receive when they arrived in Egypt. How did they live? What did they do? All of this because of Herod’s evil was so selfish and because he was so power crazy. He cared not a jot for the families, for those whom he caused so much lifelong pain. As we draw our thoughts together, we think of their return to Nazareth. Joseph hears the news that it’s safe to return. He hears this news by way of, yes, you guessed it, a dream from an angel of the Lord. This Herod who thought he was going to be the most glorious king, he was dead. He and his cronies could no longer be a threat.
Perhaps for us, we need to know that this too will pass. For the Holy Family, this would have come with much relief. They could travel home. They could come home. They could start the life that they had planned with God guiding them on their journey. For us presently, we must remain home. Our physical journeying times are for the moment perhaps a dream. Yet we trust the God of journeys is with us. Lockdown cannot prevent God’s journeying with us, God being with us.
We’re reminded that the Christmas story has so much movement in it. Right at the beginning, Mary goes to stay with Elizabeth in the hill country, the journey to Bethlehem for Jesus to be born, the shepherd’s coming from the fields, and the wise men travelling all the way from the east. Even Herod’s men had to travel throughout the land to do their ugly duty. Joseph and the wise men had travel plans altered and of course, above it all, God made the biggest journey from His realm to ours to be with us.
Let us never forget this moment, this important journey of all, and the reason we praise God for His coming to earth to show us the best way to live. Journeying with Jesus this year, this day, may we know the closeness of God’s presence with us and in us and through us as we journey further into uncharted times.
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