In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The First Sunday after Christmas.” Seems like sort of a let-down, doesn’t it? All the gifts have been given and received. The paper and ribbon that took, if you’re like me, half an hour to apply, were gone in a matter of seconds. Your family has gone home or you have returned. All that build-up, all that planning and decorating and buying and baking, and here we are, the few left standing.
But don’t take the lights and the tree down just yet; this is not the end. We’re only getting started! That’s the beautiful thing about the Church year: when the stores have moved on to Valentine’s Day, we’re still basking in the light of the life of Jesus. And it’s just starting to get exciting. Even after no room in the inn, fear-inducing angel armies, and joyous shepherds, the toddler Jesus meets magnificent Magi, comes into contact with conspiratorial kings, takes part in a midnight flight for the border, and lives for a time in a foreign land. And those are just the mountaintops! Let’s lean in a little closer as Matthew tells the story: “Now when [the Magi] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, 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.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet [Hosea (11:1)], ‘Out of Egypt I called my son'” (Matthew 2:13-15). Why did the angel tell Joseph to go to Egypt rather than some other place? There were other countries to the North and to the East to which they could have gone. Perhaps the route to Egypt was the least difficult, but why connect it to prophecy, then? There is something more here than mere ease of travel. It is what Egypt represents that is important. When God gives the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, how does He identify Himself? “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). In Psalm 80, what does the psalmist Asaph give as an example of God’s mercy? “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it” (Psalm 80:8). When their children and grandchildren ask about the celebration of the Passover, what are the people of Israel supposed to tell them? Deuteronomy 6:21: “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.” The Exodus becomes a picture of God’s salvation throughout the Scriptures. In fact, Egypt becomes short-hand for “slavery.” And Yahweh is the mighty warrior who rescues His people from that slavery.
But even the Exodus, that great deliverance from Egypt’s cruelty, was not enough to keep Israel faithful. Their disobedience and sin took them back into slavery again and again-in Assyria, Babylon, and, finally, scattered around the world under Rome. The unfaithful son, Israel, was the photographic negative of the faithful Son who was to come. Prior to Jesus, no king in the family of David fulfilled the prophecy of the great and final Messiah-King; neither could the people of God, sinners that they were, fill the cup of prophecy to the brim. Just read the rest of Hosea 11, where this prophecy is written. Left to themselves, the relationship of the people to God would have been a continual cycle of rebellion and grace until that fearful point at which God’s patience with their unfaithfulness would have run out. There was no real solution in the yearly gathering of the people to be sprinkled with blood once more, to watch the scapegoat walk off into the wilderness again. There was no forgiveness in the rituals themselves. The forgiveness was in the One to whom the rituals pointed. Likewise, the deliverance from Egypt was only temporary. Just as the flood did not put an end to all sinners, neither did the Exodus put an end to all slavery and rebellion. You know the story; the people were barely on the other side of the Red Sea when they started whining about what they didn’t have, and how much better they had it in Egypt! They needed another deliverance, another Deliverer.
And so Jesus, under threat from a blood-thirsty, paranoid tyrant, entered Egypt, the land of slavery. Innocent of any crime, His surrogate father Joseph was forced to take Him to a land of safety, much like another Joseph brought his family to safety in Egypt, when they were under threat from the tyrant named “famine” (Genesis 47:1-12). There is no coincidence here. There is no such thing as coincidence in the sovereign plan of Almighty God. Egypt was the place, but the plan was much bigger than providing an illustration to go along with the words of an Old Testament prophet. Jesus isn’t an object lesson for the evangelist. The meaning of Jesus’ entry into and exit from Egypt reaches right into the gut of your life. Jesus entered Egypt, a place symbolizing slavery, just like He entered the world and human flesh-your Egypt, your place of slavery. It’s not just about prophecy; it’s about saving you. You don’t need an example, or a picture, or a fulfillment; you need a Savior.
And that Savior has come. Jesus has come to take your place under the Judgment of God. He has come to destroy slavery to sin by becoming a slave. He has come to save people by being the first-born son that Israel could never be. He realized that if He wanted things done right, He had to do them Himself. His love, a love that explodes the boundaries of definition by which we enclose that word, is great enough to forgive even unfaithful and idolatrous children like us. Because you and I are Israel, making our little gilded images of money, jobs, family, and-fresh in our minds-perhaps even “the perfect Christmas.” We make our compromises with the surrounding nations, allowing television, music, movies, and magazines to dictate to us our attitudes on everything from fashion and food to family and faith. We worship the gods of the peoples around us as we buy and buy and buy. But those gods are motionless and speechless; they cannot satisfy the desires of our hearts and the longings of our very being.
Into the midst of this shambles of shredded paper and broken gifts, God enters. But, defying explanation, He does not do so as judge. He enters your slavery as a baby boy, doing nothing more nor less than baby boys do. He faced death His entire life, from the time that Herod tried to kill Him (instead, making martyrs of the baby boys in Bethlehem) until He conquered death by submitting to it-only to rise from the dead on the third day, victorious and alive with the new life that will be yours fully one day. Jesus is not just an example for you; that would not do you any good, if you’re in need of a Savior. Before He is an example for you, He is the very peace of God on earth, which the angels proclaimed to the shepherds and to us. He is the very salvation of the Father, God and Man together-God with us. He is the very freedom of God, not the freedom of this world that changes with governments and rulers, but the freedom by which you are truly free. He is peace and salvation and freedom for you. Like the Israelites, Jesus brought you out of slavery through water-water blessed by God in His own Name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we have just witnessed such an exodus this morning, as Malene was brought out of the kingdom of sin and the devil and into the kingdom of God. You may not have heard it, but as the water was poured over Malene, God was speaking. God sees her, clothed with Christ, and He says: “You are my Son, my beloved one, in whom I am well-pleased.” Out of Egypt God called His Son. Joined to the Son in Holy Baptism and strengthened by Him with the manna of the Holy Supper, your Father has also called you out of Egypt. Though you find yourself in a strange land, a traveler in a wilderness of idolatrous peoples all too willing to fight rather than allow you safe passage, you are on your way to the Promised Land of God’s glorious presence.
And, you have nothing to fear on this way because Christ has walked where you walk. He has gone into Egypt ahead of you, and He brings you out with Him, unscathed. He walked the long road to the cross, bloody with the blows of hate and sin. You do not have to walk that way, but He takes you along for the ride, through death and into life. And your Savior sustains you along the road: take and eat His Body; take and drink His Blood. Food for the way-this year and always. Beloved, your Egypts have an end; your Herods, too, will die, and the messenger of God will come to you and speak words not unlike what was spoken to Joseph: “Rise, go to the place I have prepared for you; those who sought your life-yes, death itself-are dead.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/26/07