Thursday, April 22, 2010

Matthew 2:13-23 - "Now when they had departed . . . "

You don't hear Joseph mentioned very much throughout the Gospel accounts, and I've always assumed it was because he must have died before Jesus reached adulthood. But here in the earliest and most vulnerable years of Jesus' life, we see Joseph playing his most heroic role. After the wise men leave, he is warned in a dream that Herod is about to go on a search and destroy mission for the infant Jesus' life. Joseph wastes no time getting his family together and fleeing to Egypt--which, we are told, fulfills the prophecy made by Hosea, "Out of Egypt I called my son" (Hosea 1:11).

Now what is the deal with this prophecy? God sent his infant son to Egypt, he didn't call him out of Egypt. Kinda twisting Hosea's words, isn't it? Actually, no. The best explanation I've heard of this passage is this. At one time God had to call his people (whom he often refers to as his "son") out of Egypt to save them from Pharaoh's wrath. So here, King Herod is like a new Pharaoh and the land of Israel has become a new "Egypt," an unsafe place for God's true Son. God had to call his Son out of this spiritually hostile "Egypt" to flee the wrath of another Pharaoh. It is an apt prelude to Jesus' entire life of being rejected and outcast from his homeland.

King Herod realizes he has been tricked by the wise men and slaughters all the male children aged two and under in the region of Bethlehem. It is an awful part of the Christmas story you rarely hear mentioned. We know that Jesus came to sacrifice his own life that countless others might have eternal life, yet he was born into this world at the cost of an entire population of his male peers. For those mothers who lost their sons to Herod's sword that terrible day, did their sorrow turn to rejoicing once they saw, years down the road at the foot of Calvary, that their loss was not in vain?

Meanwhile, Joseph keeps his family hidden in exile. News of the Jerusalem massacre must have reached his ears. The charge of protecting God's anointed Son, a mere helpless infant, rests with him alone. Even after the angel of the Lord gives him the thumbs up to return to Israel, fear of Herod's son drives Joseph to settle his family far northward in the obscure town of Nazareth. Has any earthly father in the history of the world borne so much responsibility on his shoulders?

I suppose that puts things into perspective when Jesus later asks his followers to trust him, follow him, believe in him. When he, the Son of God, was small and helpless, he entrusted his own life into Joseph's hands, a frail and fallible human being. Asking us to entrust our lives into God's hands certainly isn't asking too much.

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