Life for the New Year
henever I read this familiar text about the "Flight into Egypt" (as this story is sometimes called) I am reminded of the tale my Dad used to retell about the little boy who was reared in a non-churched home but visited Sunday School with his grandmother while on Christmas vacation. After Sunday dinner he pulled out a picture of an airplane with people looking out of the windows that he had drawn in Sunday School. Everyone at the table asked him to explain. He said, "This is Joseph, Mary and the Baby Jesus on their Flight into Egypt!" The little sister asked, "Did they have airplanes way back then?" The Dad piped in, "O yeah, it really wasn't that long ago." I did say that they were un-churched.
Like the Nativity Family we all face times in our lives when we need to retreat to our own Egypt. When trouble comes we need a place and time to regroup. A friend lost a longtime job. He went back home to Alabama and licked his wounds for a while. He prayed and asked God for new direction. Soon he had some new ideas and dreams. He jumped in his car and drove back to the big city and soon found a better job. Now he thanks God for the new opportunity that would not have come if he had not had the setback.
The Wise Men were diligently seeking God's direction as they followed the new star and got into trouble by asking directions from the wrong guy. They probably sensed right off that King Herod was up to no good: "You three guys go and find the Christ Child and the come and tell me so that I can worship him too." Yeah, right! One of the reasons they were called Wise Men is that they were probably real smart. So, they tricked the trickster and beat the much hated Herod at his own game.
The Three Wise Men from the East, probably the area that is today's Iran, went on back home by another way without telling Herod a thing. However, they did find the baby Jesus and presented gifts that probably were turned into cash that perhaps financed Joseph and Mary's trip to Egypt to hide from Herod.
When Herod realized that he had been "tricked by the Wise Men" (v.16, NRSV) he was infuriated and had all of the children killed in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger. Soon Herod died and an angel told Joseph in a dream, that they could now return home. The little family returned to Nazareth and Jesus had a normal family life until it was time for him to begin his active ministry at about the age of thirty.
None of this could have happened without the intervention of the Wise Men who played a providential role in the story of the Nativity. Yet, they are typically forgotten figures of history, and are relegated to pretty painted characters riding on camels in Christmas Cards and manger scenes.
God has experienced similar situations to ours. The Baby Jesus grew up to be a man. Although He was "fully God," our theology underlines that Jesus was also "fully human," and was tested and tempted as we are. He had a respectable vocation as a carpenter, which he learned under to tutelage of his earthly father. We picture them in a small carpenter's shop in Nazareth building crude furniture; however, some contemporary archaeologists speculate that Joseph and Jesus may have been highly skilled master craftsmen who commuted to a nearby Gentile city, now in ruins, and produced fine and highly sought after "artistic pieces." If this is true, it would make the parallel even more transferable to our contemporary situation because this extra travel and higher level of competence would have produced a much higher level of pressure and problems.
Marilyn and I were up to visit my family in North Carolina last week. Eddie and Jemmietta are high school friends with the renowned artist Bob Timberlake so we all shopped in his beautiful store and gallery. Timberlake's wonderful gift of grace and taste has been extended from his folksy paintings into home decorations. He now has his own line of Lexington crafted furniture. There was a new display this trip that caught my eye where Timberlake had taken a room in his huge gallery and recreated an old fashion carpenter's shop with authentic hand tools and benches from that of a master carpenter who was popular for his hand made fine furniture there in the capitol of fine furniture. However, one man working alone, taking days to produce just one order, would have faced few of the problems that we deal with daily in a mechanized world. Typically, today's fast pace causes us to have fewer opportunities to keep our eyes on our star.
Sometimes I think a lot of folks have missed seeing their star, or maybe ignored it. Perhaps there was something that God had in mind for them to do but they missed the call. The Good News is that God calls back! He will give us another chance at fulfilling a revised plan. If we fail to catch the ball the first time, He tosses it our way again. As long as there is life left in our bones, God has a plan.
Throughout the Nativity stories we read about persons looking and listening for God. The Wise Men saw a star and followed it. Mary spoke with Garbiel and was willing to do her part. Joseph had several dreams upon which he acted. The Shepherds heard a whole band of angels singing and they found the baby Jesus in a manger. Wondrous things can happen when we stop, look and listen. A friend made millions from a dream he felt was God's gift of an invention. In a conversation with a street person he said that he was tired of his hobo life and "God was calling him home to his Daddy in Tennessee." Sometimes it's something new, and for others it's going home, but God is calling all of to something.
Most of us begin
to think more seriously about life as the new year approaches. We are
a little more open to a sign, a dream, an angel's song, perhaps a star
to lead us in a new direction. The Good News is that God will faithfully
guide if we will stop, look, listen and then follow.
synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor