Story of a Journey

December 18, 2016

We all know the Story; we’ve
heard it over and over again.  If you
close your eyes you can almost picture them, Mary, Great with Child, on a
donkey.   Wow while that may be an accurate description
I’m not sure that any woman ever, would appreciate being described that way. Ranks
right up there with, “She was as big as a house.” 
However you might describe Mary’s
physical state the reality was that Mary was 9 month pregnant and probably riding
on a donkey, if she was lucky.
If
we pull down one of our maps we discover the trip that took them from Nazareth,
up here just 24 Kms southwest of the Sea of Galilee to Bethlehem which was 120
kms away over rugged terrain. 
A
trip that probably would have taken them the best part of a week and in the
very best of situations they would have ridden donkeys. Donkeys! You ever ride
on a donkey?  You ever ride on a donkey 9
months pregnant? 
You
would have to wonder what would ever possess a man to take his very pregnant
wife on that type of journey.  Madness or
perhaps there was another explanation or two. 
Within
the scriptures we discovered the answers. 
The first part of the answer lies in the Old Testament, it was prophesied
by the Prophet Micah. 
You
will remember that King David was considered the greatest king that Israel ever
had, and he was born in Bethlehem and throughout the Old Testament it was
declared that the coming Messiah would be a descendent of David and Micah wrote
this hundreds of years before the birth of Christ:  Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem, are only a small village
among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one
whose origins are from the distant past.
But the second part of the answer
is not found hundreds of years before Christ’s birth but at the very time of
Christ’s birth. Luke 2:1-4 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed
that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to
their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a
descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient
home.
Not sure that Mary and Joseph
would have seen it as a fortuitous situation but it certainly meant that they
were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there.
The trip from Nazareth to
Bethlehem is a very familiar part of the Christmas story and it has all the
earmarks of a great story.  You hear it
this time of year in sermons, songs and read about it on Christmas cards. 
We all know the Story; we’ve
heard it over and over again. But there is another story, a story seldom told
that is part of the Christmas Narrative as well.
Please
stand with me for the reading from God’s word. (Matthew
2:7-14)
You see, when we think of the
journey of Christmas we think of the part of the trip before Jesus was born,
but there was another trip, and that is a Story that is seldom told.
Let’s go back to the story. 
You will recall how on their way
to Bethlehem the Wise Men stopped into Jerusalem where they paid their respects
to King Herod who wasn’t really a King but was kind of a puppet Governor whom
the Romans let rule over a small portion of Palestine. 
But it was his portion of
Palestine and he was insanely suspicious, with the emphasis on the insane part
of that statement, suspicious of those he thought were a threat to his
rule.  We mentioned a couple of weeks ago
that he had murdered his wife, mother in law and three sons because he thought
they were trying to oust him, and maybe they were, but still, that’s kind of
harsh
When Herod heard that there was a
child born who was the King of the Jews he was furious and began planning bad
things for the baby Jesus. The Angela Gabriel shows up again warns the Wise Men
to skip the Jerusalem part of their trip on the way home and that’s where we
pick up our story.
Matthew 2:13-15 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the
Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and
his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because
Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for
Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s
death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called
my Son out of Egypt.”
And
that is really all we know.  The Holy
family fled to Egypt, stayed for an indeterminable period of time and then
returned to Palestine. 
I’m
not a woman so I’m not sure which would be worse, making the journey to
Bethlehem while 9 months pregnant or making the journey to Egypt shortly after
having given birth, but it is what it is.
The
bible doesn’t elaborate on where Joseph and the holy family lived or what they
did while in Egypt. But, if you travel to Egypt today traditions of the Coptic
Church will direct you to any number of spots that they claim were notable in
Jesus’ childhood. 
A
little aside here, for many of us the church is cleanly divided into two
sections:  Catholic and Protestant.  And yet around the world there are parts of our
family that have a long history.  The Coptic
Church, or Egyptian Orthodox Church is said to have been started in AD 42, by
Saint Mark, that’s only ten years after the death and resurrection of Christ.    
While
we aren’t given a time in history that Mary and Joseph returned to Palestine,
the bible tells us they stayed there until Herod’s death which history tells us
happened in 4 BC.  So while we don’t have
a definitive birth date for the birth of Christ the assumption of many scholars
is that it happened between 6 and 4 BC.
Back
to the story; We kind of see Egypt as a strange place for Joseph to take his
family but that is because we see it from our time and perspective. 
Two
thousand years ago Egypt was a Roman province where Greek was spoken, it wasn’t
that far away from Bethlehem, if we pull down our map again, here is Egypt, the
border is less than 100 Kms, but still outside the reach of Herod and there was
a certain familiarity about it.
Not
to mention the symbolism wrapped up in Jesus making the same trip the people of
Israel had made when Joseph’s family had fled there to escape a famine in Canaan
1700 years before.
Recently
someone commented that the people of God were saved when they fled from Egypt,
and the son of God was saved when he fled to Egypt.  Interesting.                                        
And
while we don’t know a lot of the details concerning their stay in Egypt there
is a great story that is told in tradition. 
 
When Joseph and Mary were on
their way to Egypt, they were waylaid by a group of highway men. One of the
outlaws wanted to murder them and steal their belongings.
But another of the group stepped
in and protected the family, tradition tells us that he looked at the Christ
child and said, “O most blessed of children, if ever there comes a time
for having mercy on me, then remember me, and forget not this hour”.
So, the legend says that the next
time Jesus and the thief met was at Calvary where Dismas hung on the cross next
to Jesus and there he found forgiveness and grace.  Great story isn’t it?    Is it true?  I have no idea but it is a great story.     
In
the Coptic church, there are a few noncanonical texts called “the
Infancy Gospels”.
These texts have never been accepted as the word of God, but
in one called The
Gospel of Pseudo-
Matthew And in this book we read this
account, “And it came to pass, when the most
blessed Mary went into the temple with the little child, that all the idols
prostrated themselves on the ground, so that all of them were lying on their
faces shattered and broken to pieces; and thus they plainly showed that they
were nothing.”   That account happened in a place called
Tell Basta, and if you were to visit  today this is what you would see.  (picture)
And
our Coptic brothers and sisters would say this was a fulfillment of Isaiah 19:1  This message came to me concerning
Egypt: Look! The LORD is advancing against Egypt, riding on a swift cloud. The
idols of Egypt tremble. The hearts of the Egyptians melt with fear.
But,
traditions and legend aside, what can we learn from this brief interlude in
this young families’ Life, from the biblical account?
We
Discover It Was a Story of Trust Mary and Joseph must have been overwhelmed
with all that was going on.  They get to the
end of this gruelling journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem only to discover that
for whatever reason the village inn had no room for them.  Some kind soul allows them the use of a
stable where their first child is born. 
Do you remember the birth of your
first child?  You can’t really believe it’s
happened, even though you had nine months to prepare.  You have to count all the little fingers and
toes and then you count them again, hardly able to comprehend how tiny and
perfect they are.  Almost like, baby toes
and fingers.  Then there are endless
discussions of who the baby looks like until finally you settle on Uncle
Moe.  You know, the uncle with no hair
and no teeth.
And then a flock of shepherds
show up, do shepherds come in flocks? Babbling about angels and wanting to see
the baby.  And then it was the Magi with
their gifts and talk about how they had travelled hundreds of miles across the
desert in search of this child who would become a king.  A little overwhelming for a Nazarene
carpenter and his young bride.
And just when Joe thinks that maybe
things have settled down and he can finally get some sleep his dreams are
interrupted by an angel, again. 
Matthew 2:13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the
Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and
his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because
Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”  Joseph
must have been thinking every time an angel shows up he gets some strange story
and request. 
First it was when he was still
reeling from the bombshell that Mary had dropped, that she was going to have a
baby and that the father was the Holy Spirit. 
He was already to break off the engagement when an Angel showed up
letting Joseph know that everything Mary said was true and commanded him to
marry her and call the child Jesus. And he did.
Now this, he was to believe that
not only did King Herod know that Jesus was born, I’m sure he was thinking
“Like what’s with that?  I’m just a
carpenter and he’s a king, how’d he find out? We haven’t even put the
announcement in the newspaper yet and Mary hasn’t posted it on Facebook.”  And even if Herod knew why should a grumpy old
man care enough about their child to want to kill him?”
It’s surprising how often God
reveals extraordinary plans to ordinary people. 
“Noah, I want you to build me an ark.” 
“Sarah and Abraham you are going to have a baby in your old age.”  “David I want you to take on the giant
Goliath with just five stones and sling shot”, and on and on it goes. 
Mary, you are going to have a
baby, even though you are still a virgin. 
Joseph, Mary is going to have a baby even though she’s still a virgin.
And now this.  It’s not for the ordinary that we have to
trust, those are just things we do.  And
that’s probably why we have verses in the scriptures like Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own
understanding.
 And why the prophet tells us in Isaiah 12:2 See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him
and not be afraid.
And why Jesus assured his apostles and us:  John 14:1 “Don’t let your hearts be
troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.
And so there will be times that we don’t understand, and those are
the times we have to trust that God knows what he’s doing.
I
love the response of Joseph throughout the Christmas story.   He finds out Mary is pregnant and decides to
call off the wedding, that night he is visited by an angel who tells him that
it’s going to be all right and that he needs to marry his Fiancé.  His response is found in Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and
took Mary as his wife.
After Jesus is born an angel
visits and tells Joseph that Jesus’ life is in danger and they need to leave
the country , we read about his response in Matthew 2:14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child
and Mary, his mother,
When Herod dies Joseph is visited
once again by the angel, one would think that they should be on first name
basis by now, and he is commanded to return to Israel, his response?  Matthew 2:21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of
Israel with Jesus and his mother.
I
like the New Living Translation of the Bible, it’s what we use on Sunday at
Cornerstone, but sometimes the other translations say it better.  For example in the NIV we read Matthew 2:13  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.”
Do
you see the commands?  “Get up”, “Take
the Child”, “Escape to Egypt” “Stay there until I tell you”
Now
let’s read the next verse in the NIV  Matthew 2:14-15  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.
If I could sing, I would sing “Do
you see what I see”.  “He Got Up”, “He
took the Child”, “He left for Egypt”  “He
Stayed”
So
more than anything we discover It Was a
Story of Obedience
Is
trust trust if we don’t act on it?  Do
you trust that the ice is thick enough to walk on?  Will you walk on it?  I love the story of the man falling over the
bank.  As he’s falling to a certain death
he manages to grab hold of a branch and as he dangles he yells, “Help,
help!”  From above he hears a voice call
out, “this is God, I’m here to help you.” 
“Thank you” He hollers back.  The
voice responds “You need to trust me.  Do
you trust me?”
“Yes,
he responds, I trust you”   “Then let go
of the branch!”  There’s a pause and the
man calls out again, “Is there anyone else up there?”
We
talk about trusting God but until we act upon that trust then trust is just a
word.
We
see how the bible is full of examples of trust, even when it didn’t seem to
make sense,  but the reason they are
there is because the trust was acted on. 
There
are probably other instances were God called upon people and they said they
trusted him, but when He asked them to do whatever it was to demonstrate that
trust they hedged. 
And
that’s why we don’t read about Harold in the lion’s den, or Bob killing the
giant, or Fred building an ark.
Jesus
offers us grace and forgiveness and in return he asks for our love and
obedience.  And sometimes we bristle at
the thought of having to obey, but the commands of Christ aren’t set there to
ruin our fun, they are set there for a purpose. 
Do
you remember in the book of Matthew one of the religious leaders asked Jesus
what the most important commandment was? 
In reply Jesus reached back into the Old Testament and answers Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your
heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest
commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two
commandments.”  Love God and love others. 
And when you get right down to it that is the sum of Jesus teachings.
Love God and love people.  And so when he tells us not to murder or
steal or commit adultery he is simply telling us to treat other people
right.  Was the command to not cheat on
our spouse put there to ruin our fun or to protect our families?  When we are commanded to not take the Lords
name in vain, not to have other gods and to take time out to worship him they
are part of the Love the Lord your God.
And
It Was A Story Of Faith  Joseph had no guarantees, God didn’t hand
him the plan written down so he could show Mary or that he could take out once
in a while to look at to  reassure
himself. 
The
directions were a little vague, “Go to Egypt” there was no address, not contact
person for when he got there, no promise of a job.  In the book of Hebrews Paul defines what
faith is Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for
will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
That
could have been written about Joseph, time and time again.  He had an assurance about things he could not
see.
And
the story continues, Matthew 2:19-20  When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to
Joseph in Egypt.  “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother
back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are
dead.”
And
finally, It Was A Story Of Deliverance  God’s deliverance may have been the
outcome, but God’s deliverance was dependent on Joseph and Mary’s Trust,
Obedience and Faith. 
Too
often we get into messes in our lives because of choices we make.  And often those are the time that we have
chosen to not believe God and have chosen not to obey God.  If Jonah had of had the faith to believe that
God knew what he was doing and obeyed him he would never have ended up in the
belly of the whale.
But
what does this mean for today, December 18, 2016?  Well first of all it reminds us that we need
to trust God.  We need to trust him with
our career, we need to trust his with our family, we need to trust that he
loves us and has the very best at heart for us, but being in the centre of
God’s will doesn’t mean it will be easy or that there will be no problems.  But it does mean that he will be with us
through the times of trouble and problems.
And
it means that we need to obey him, to do as he commands and put our trust into
action.
Today
you can decide if you are going to trust God.  
Are you willing to put your life in his hands. 
Are
you willing to believe what you might not be able to see?