We’re going to be in Matthew 2 this morning.
This is the second Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the church’s calendar where we look with longing for the appearance of God into the world.
It’s a season where we look forward and backward.
We look forward to the day—to the moment—
when God is going to make his power and presence known to the world,
appearing in his blazing love and fiery mercy and healing justice
to raise the dead and to judge the world and restore all things.
Advent is a season where the Church tells the rest of the world, “You’re not crazy, things are not supposed to be this way.”
That frustration you feel isn’t a phantom,
that longing in your soul isn’t misguided,
that ache in your heart isn’t crazy.
Things are not yet the way God intends them.
God’s kingdom has not yet fully come on earth as it is in heaven.
But one day it will.
We look forward.
But we don’t look forward in blind hope or blind faith.
Our hope is grounded in something— our hope is growing out of something.
But we look backwards—a long time backwards.
Maybe that’s why we set up nativity scenes.
We look back to the first century where we remember that God has already entered into the world.
The kingdom of God has already begun arriving in the most unlikely of places and in the most unlikely of ways.
Not everything is the way God wants it,
but God is at work in the world.
And we look backward to one particular human life as the moment where we learn the most about God.
Where we learn what God is up to in the world— where we learn what God is like.
Because we look backward to one human life as the moment when God did the unthinkable.
Advent is when we remember that God got dirty.
God became one of us.
Not just similar-to-us, not just kind-of-like-us, not just trying on one of our bodies and masquerading in it.
God become one of us— fully and completely human, body and soul.
Evidently the way that the kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven—
the way that things become as God wants them to be—
is from the inside.
The church confesses that God works from the inside.
That God rescues humanity by becoming human.
That God rewrites history by entering history.
That God’s heals and transforms each one of us by invading us and working from the inside.
It’s not as quick or as clean as we would like,
but that’s how God works.
He works with us.
Advent is the season where we remember that God did the unthinkable and came inside.
Advent is the season where we look forward and backward.
When we anticipate what God will do in the future because we remember what God has done in the past.
When we look forward to the arrival of God’s healing work from outside of history
because we trust that God is already healing and working inside of history.
Advent is about the appearance of God into the world. Advent is about the appearance of hope.
A hope that changes everything.
Last week we saw that the person of Jesus had reshaped the lives and imaginations of the early church so that they couldn’t look at anything the same way again.
Not even the Scriptures.
The arrival of Jesus had filled up and filled out and overflowed the ancient words of Isaiah and had given them new meaning, new significance, new purpose.
And the arrival of Jesus does the same thing to our lives.
New meaning. New significance. New purpose.
This is the season where we’re invited to throw our ourselves to the arrival of this God and let our lives to be reshaped by his love.
Today I want to lead us through a short reflection on another bit of Matthew,
that the advent of Jesus—that the arrival of Jesus—is overflowing.
And that’s going to lead us to the table.
So we’re going to start in Matthew 2, starting in verse 1:
(2.1-12) After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped 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.
That’s a bit of Matthew that most of us are probably familiar with— the story of the magi coming to honor and worship little baby Jesus.
But that’s not where I want us to linger this morning.
(We’ll probably come back to this passage in a few weeks at Epiphany.)
But all of that is just setting up our passage for today.
Just giving it context.
Verses 13-15 are where I want us to fix our gaze focus on this morning:
(2.13-15) 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.”
So after the Magi leave, Joseph receives another dream from an angel.
In chapter one, Joseph receives a dream telling him not to freak out over the fact that his virgin finance is pregnant.
“Don’t worry, Joseph— she’s going to give birth to a son who will be God with you.”
But now Joseph has another dream.
“Um, Joseph—don’t worry now with what I’m about to say— but crazy King Herod is coming to kill that baby.
“Don’t panic—don’t worry—everything is going to be fine.
But you and Mary and the baby need to get out of town.
Go south. Go to Egypt. That should be far enough.”
If I had been Joseph, I think I would have been confused.
Isn’t this baby “God with us”?
I mean—shouldn’t that count for something?
In Lord of the Rings,
when Gandalf joins your fellowship everyone is a lot less scared—
because you’ve got Gandalf with you.
He can just do some kind of fiery shield and stop the arrows, block the sword.
How much more then—when God joins your family, why do you have to flee to Egypt?
You’ve got God with you!
That should count for something!
A fiery shield, an invisibility charm, a blockade of angels—
anything would be better than nothing.
What good is “God with us”—what good is Immanuel— if we’re having to flee to Egypt?
But Joseph does what he’s told.
He uproots their life, he sells the dog,
they cash in the gold and frankincense and myrrh and (v14) head down to Egypt.
And (v15) they stay there until the death of Herod.
And then this is the second place that Matthew says
that the arrival of Jesus and the events of Jesus’ life are filling up and overflowing Scripture.
Like we said last week,
Greek doesn’t have a word for “fulfill”—
that’s an English word that’s a little deceptive here.
The word that Matthew uses is plēroō— this escape to Egypt fills up, fills out, and overflows
what was said by the prophet.
That’s a much more helpful way of thinking about what Jesus does.
This phrase about Egypt comes from the writings of the prophet Hosea and when you look what Hosea was saying in context there’s nothing to fulfill.
Hosea isn’t talking about the future—he’s talking about the past.
Here’s that phrase in context in Hosea 11:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.”
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.
“Will they not return to Egypt
and will not Assyria rule over them
because they refuse to repent?”
From Hosea’s standpoint in 8th century BC, this is definitely not about the future.
That phrase isn’t looking forward.
That phrase is looking backward.
In Hosea, God is speaking and describing his son, Israel,
and how way back when—when Israel was young, only a child—
God brought his son out of Egypt.
He sent a guy named Moses—you know: “let my people go”— and brought his chosen people out of slavery, out of darkness, out of Egypt.
But after he brought his people out of Egypt, they rebelled, they wandered, they sacrificed to other gods—to the Baals.
The more God called them (v2), the more they move away from God.
Verses 3-4 are full of the most intimate, loving of images.
God is Father
who took them by the arms and taught them to walk,
who lifted them to his cheek like child, who bent down to feed them.
And yet this son does not recognize his father.
This is a child who does not realize who loves him, who heals him.
When Israel was young—God is saying—
out of Egypt I called my son,
but now (v5) they’re going back to Egypt.
They refuse to repent—
they won’t turn back to their father’s embrace.
The son has abandoned his father,
and is headed back to Egypt.
They’re going to be conquered by foreigners—by an Assyrian king— and they’re going to return to slavery, to darkness, to death.
In Hosea 11, Hosea is describing the unravelling of the nation, the reversal of the Exodus, the un-creation of Israel.
And that may not seem like a big deal until you realize that Israel is the hope of the world.
In the way that the biblical witness tells human history God creates the nation of Israel in Genesis 12 to save the world—to bless the world.
God works from the inside—
and is going to bless the world through this people.
Israel is the hope of the world.
So if these people want nothing to do with God—
if the hope of the world is headed back to Egypt—
that means things are hopeless.
I think that’s the reason why the New Testament begins with God going into Egypt too.
I think that’s what Matthew is getting at when he says that the words of the prophet are being “filled up.”
God in Jesus has filled up Israel’s history— and is now filling up Israel’s task.
The nation of Israel may have failed, but the God of Israel will not fail.
God himself will bring blessing and healing to the world.
And the reason there’s no fiery shield,
no invisibility charm, no blockade of angels, is because God wants to go to Egypt.
That’s where his people are,
that’s where the world is,
that’s where we are.
They’re in slavery, in exile, in fear, in darkness—
so that’s where God goes.
God goes to our place of weakness.
To our place of slavery.
To our place of sin.
To our darkest place imaginable—whatever that looks like in our lives— to the center of our darkness and unravelling and un-creation.
That is where God goes.
There is no place that Immanuel does not follow.
There is nowhere to flee from the love of God.
In the words of the psalmist:
(Ps 139.7-8) Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
God is with us.
Wherever we are.
Even to our sinful chains of hopelessness.
Even to the depths of Sheol itself—
in Jesus, God has taken a cross to pursue us even there (cf. 1Pet 3.18-19).
There is no place that “God with us” does not follow.
That’s the whole point of the story of Jesus.
That’s the good news.
That’s what Advent is about.
And God comes to us in Egypt so that we don’t have to stay in Egypt.
God meets us in our chains, in our darkness, in our death, and invites us to come up out of Egypt with him.
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
We’re called Son—we’re called Daughter— and we’re invited out of Egypt.
Despite our history, despite our choices, despite our rebellion, Jesus shares his name with us.
In the words of one early Christian:
(Gal 4.6) God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
That’s the only reason we can call out to God as our Abba—our Papa, our Father— because the Spirit of the Son invades us.
God works within with us—
God works from the inside.
He shares his life with us.
And we’re invited to participate ever more fully in that life— to drink ever more deeply from that life.
We’re invited to abandon our chains—
to leave our hopelessness behind—
and to come out Egypt.
Where are there patterns in your life that you think— “Those are chains. That thing is Egypt.”
Perhaps today as we come to the table, you could recognize that Immanuel meets you there.
His love meets you there.
His mercy meets you there. His patience meets you there.
His power meets you there.
Jesus wants to share his name with you. Son. Daughter.
And we want to bring you into freedom—into new life.
You’re invited to look backward to Jesus so that you can press forward with Jesus.
You’re invited out of bondage,
out of hopelessness, out of fear.
In just a moment you’ll be invited to come and receive from this table—
to receive a bit of bread, to dip it in the cup, and return to your seat.
If you want to cry out to our Father, then this table is open to you.
If a Son or a Daughter struggling with darkness and chains and sin, this table is food for journey.
This is the place where God says,
“I will not abandon you in your chains. Hold on and keep following me.”
Let’s bow our heads and prepare our hearts for communion:
On the night in which he gave himself up for us,
Our Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks to you, Father, broke the bread
gave it to his disciples, and said:
“Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Likewise, when the supper was over, he took the cup,
gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said:
“Drink from this, all of you, this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
And, Father, it’s in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood.
May we look backward, Lord Jesus, to your flight to Egypt and recognize the lengths to which you pursue us,
may we always today receive your Spirit into our hearts and learn to leave our chains behind,
and may we look forward to that day when you will set all creation free from its bondage to decay and may we learn to live in the light of that hope.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.