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  • Rev. Diane Curtis

Past, Present, and Future

Matthew 2:13-23

New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. 17 Then what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazarene.”

They had already been through enough. First, the man traveled to pick up his betrothed in her hometown. Then they traveled to his hometown on an arduous journey. The couple wasn’t married yet. That usually happened at the home of the groom. Their journey took them to his hometown for other reasons.

They were visitors in the town and ended up in a place few others would stay – the place where the animals were brought at night. While there, their child was born. Eventually they found a home and settled in for the foreseeable future. The couple thought Bethlehem was a good place to get established. Joseph’s family lived there so they would be near relatives.

They had been through a lot. While in the stable they had visitors – the shepherds and possibly others from the town. Later, as they settled into their house, those wisemen visited. The ones who came with gifts whose value was far beyond anything they had ever seen before. Gifts that would pay for all of their expenses for a year or two or even more.

The family was finally in their own home, settling in for their new life together. Then the dream. It seems that Joseph was always getting those dreams. His first message from God was about the upcoming birth of his son. After that, God to speak to him through dreams. This one told him that he needed to take his family to Egypt to get away from the tyrant so as to protect your family, to protect your son. Keep him safe from the one who was threatened by him and wanted to kill him.

So, leaving their home in Bethlehem where Mary had just put away the dishes, made up the beds, and hung the pictures, they packed everything up and headed to Egypt where they had to find a new place to live. Which they did. Mary again put away the dishes, decorated the walls, and got the house settled. Mary and Joseph watched as their child began to grow into a toddler.

Then another one of those dreams. Joseph was probably exasperated with God, not wanting to hear another message. This one told him that he and his family could return home. Herod had died and they could head back to Israel. So, they packed everything up again, maybe having to put them in a Pod so their belongings could be delivered later. There was only so much you could carry as you walked from one town to another.

The family headed to Israel. But before they got there, another dream. This one told Joseph that he needed to alter course because the new ruler was not much better than Herod. Off they went to Galilee, settling in Mary’s hometown of Nazareth to begin a new life there. Mary set up the home. This time, God let them stay. Mary could decorate and settle in for the long haul. Their son could grow up there with his siblings. Joseph could establish his business. They were ready for the future, settled in the place God had brought them.

I don’t need to remind you that today is New Year’s Day. We are now in 2023. Many of us think we have left the past behind – everything we didn’t want to deal with and face. COVID is still around with new variants popping up all the time. We want to forget all that was difficult. There are also things we want to remember. Even so, we can file 2022 away in a folder, pulling something out now and then when we need or want to.

We sit today in the present on the first day of 2023, thinking about what we are doing today and what will the coming year be like. Maybe we are making resolutions for the new year – get back to exercising regularly or changing my diet. I’m going to read the Bible every day for an hour. Whatever we decide is important to do differently that we may or may not accomplish. Rarely do we decide to do something reasonable. Reasonable resolutions might be that I’ll exercise two days a week instead of everyday or start by reading the Bible for 15 minutes instead of an hour. Starting small is a good idea.

We are looking ahead to what we want to do differently in 2023 and imagining what the year may hold. We know in the back of our minds that there will be things that come our way that we didn’t expect. Both challenges and joys. Memorable events and forgettable events.

Before we jump too far ahead, I want to remind you that we are still in the season of Christmas, that time between Christmas Day and Epiphany (the celebration of the wise men visiting the baby Jesus) on January 6th. In fact, in case you didn’t know it, these are the 12 days of Christmas. I hope you are caught up with all those gifts you are supposed to be giving to someone else who now has five or six partridges in pear trees. We are in the midst of that journey to post-Christmas. We are not quite there yet but will be soon.

Today’s text has jumped us to that post-Christmas time. The wise men have come and gone. In fact, they have just left, and Herod has realized that he has been tricked so is very upset.

Mary and Joseph are settling into life as new parents, creating a home for their family. God has been present with them all along the way, guiding and protecting them. The angels to Mary and Joseph’s dreams. Those dreams seem to be becoming more urgent. Joseph is tasked with saving his family from Herod and then Archelaus. It seems to Joseph that he is always on the move. His job as head of the household was more difficult than he had anticipated. He had thought he could go to work to support his family and then have time to spend with his friends. It wouldn’t be too hard. But God kept throwing wrinkles into the mix.

God’s plan, though not readily apparent to Joseph, was a critical one. God tasked Joseph with saving that infant who would later save the world. The one who would preserve God’s people, provide forgiveness for their sins, and change the world forever.

Joseph’s task was a microcosm of God’s saving work throughout the history of God’s people. You might remember that God created a way for the Hebrews to escape the persecution in Egypt by using Moses to lead them away from the wrath of Pharoah so that God’s people would be preserved. Eventually they arrived at the land promised to them where they settled into their new homes for the long haul. They would establish homesteads and watch their families grow. The place God had always promised them they would settle.

That is how God works. God moves people from one place to another. From one home to another. It may be that just as we are feeling settled in one place, God interrupts to tell you that God has another thing for you to do. Another place for you to be. Another action to take. Maybe even a new place to live. It seems that God doesn’t leave us alone anymore than he left Joseph alone. We can try to ignore God’s voice, but God seems to speak to us anyway. It might be through that time we have set aside to read the Bible, through a sermon or a song or through a friend who says, “Did you ever think about…? Of course, we often don’t want to hear a message because we don’t want to think about something different or do something new. We want to be in the comfort of who we are and what we know. Don’t change anything!

However, that’s not how God works. God doesn’t leave anything the same. If God left things the same, how could people grow and change? How could Jesus change the world if God’s people stand still?

The movement God tasks us with isn’t always a physical movement from one place to another. Many times, it is a spiritual movement, one that grows our faith so that we are able to see God’s perspective more and more and look through our own less and less.

The continuing story of Mary and Joseph was one of God continuing to work in their lives. Moves into places they didn’t expect to be but also a spiritual movement. Each time they had to trust God more as the disruption became greater. They had to trust God and move forward. Even when they thought they had settled down to live in Nazareth, God wasn’t done with their story. As they raised their child Jesus, the Son of God, they were presented with new challenges, not knowing how it would turn out. That grief and horror awaited in the future worse than what they had escaped from when the boy was a child.

Our continuing story has its own ups and down. A story written and rewritten by God many times over in our own lives. It is a story of challenges. A story of disappointments, fear, sadness and maybe even depression. More importantly, it is a story of hope.

This is the story we grab on to, hold on to in this season of Christmas. As we see the candles, the Christ candle, the decorations, and the nativity scenes we are reminded that God’s story in our lives is a story of hope. God’s story intertwined with ours. It’s a story of grace. And grace never disappoints.

We all know the hymn, “Amazing Grace.” We have at least the beginning stanza and the last stanza memorized. But it is one of the middle stanzas that speaks best to us today:

Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come;

Tis’ grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

Friends, here in the season of Christmas we know that God’s grace has brought us to where we are, through what we have been, through our past stories. God’s grace has brought us to our present story, and God’s grace will continue to lead us forward and, eventually, to home.


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