Matthew 2:13-23 Sunday after Nativity
After the birth of Christ, the angel came again to the righteous Joseph, and instructed him to take the mother and child, and flee to Egypt because Herod intended to kill the child. Joseph, who had accepted the role of the guardian, of both the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, then took his family and began the long journey into Egypt. According to tradition they settled in Cairo and there lived until the danger from Herod was past.
How strange it seems that it was necessary for Jesus Christ, Who is God incarnate, to flee from danger posed by a mere man. Could not God have ordained the death of Herod in such a timely manner so that his plans of slaughter could not be carried out? Could not have the searching soldiers passed over the Christ child without seeing Him, just as later on, our Lord passed through the midst of an angry mob that was preparing to stone Him? Could not His attackers been struck blind or have withered arms and hands, as happened to those who attacked the saints? Why was it necessary for our Lord to flee the hand of a mere man, Herod the king?
First is the fact that God truly did take on, not only human flesh, but the whole life of man which is subject to many dangers. He became Fully Man! In his great humility and love for mankind, He submitted Himself fully to the frailty and vulnerability of life in the world. Had He avoided these things by supernatural power, then there would have been doubts that He had truly become fully man. Despite the joyful proclamation of His birth, the evil one still was unaware of the true nature of this Child – and such a supernatural intervention, would have exposed the Christ Child to greater danger from the evil one than He already faced. In order that He might grow and develop to adulthood in peace and safety, it was better that the evil one, who continually plots against the servants of God – you and me, would think that this child had been killed.
That this was the case, is made evident by the remark, that upon their return from Egypt, the righteous Joseph took his family to Nazareth and settled there so that our Lord was known as a Nazarene – a place from whence no prophet was foretold to have risen.
In the flight to Egypt, God demonstrated for us the missionary nature of the Gospel. Even before our Lord had grown and taken on His public ministry, He took a missionary journey that He might share His presence with the whole world, not just the Hebrew people. In like manner, the apostles, after our Lord’s ascension, were sent out to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world – and in the same manner, we too are sent to the whole world to proclaim the Gospel. Our Lord did not undertake this journey to Egypt as an intentional missionary – rather He went out of necessity. But no matter where He went, He brought the presence of God into the world. Nor did He “preach and teach” in Egypt – He was simply there as a refugee, but again simply by being there and by being Who He is, He brought the light of God into the dark places.
So also, we do not have to go off on special “missionary” trips to do this, rather we simply go where God sends us, for whatever mundane reason, but where ever we go, we proclaim the Gospel, not necessarily by preaching and teaching, but simply by living our lives. Loving each other and our neighbor.
James, the brother of the Lord, was the son of Joseph by his first wife. James, of all the sons of Joseph, was the one who was closest to Jesus Christ. We see in some icons of the flight to Egypt that James accompanied his father, and the Virgin and her Child, on this journey. After the death of Joseph, as the brothers were dividing the inheritance of their father, the others did not wish to grant Jesus a share of this inheritance for he was still young and had not worked to contribute to the inheritance. Only James spoke out in defense of Jesus amongst his brothers and chose to divide his own share of the inheritance with Jesus.
Because of his brotherly devotion and love, James alone, among all the sons of Joseph, is called the “brother of the Lord”. Because of his love of Christ, James was among the earliest believers and followers of Christ. He was so firm in his faith that he was the first of the bishops of the Church in Jerusalem. He was also among the first of the martyrs, laying down his life for Christ. James by his love of God, was also a missionary showing to the world, the salvation of Christ and caring for the flock as a bishop.
We are living in bizarre and often terrible times. We see Orthodox Christians, including bishops and priests saying things that we know are not right. We see mass numbers of people in society, including those that call themselves Christians, running like sheep off a cliff, as they follow the politically correct ideas that are regularly sent to them on their cell phones, internet, and televisions. There is very little prayer, very little compunction.
Orthodox Christians, and for that matter, any who believe in Jesus Christ, who care about the world and know about the Gospel, sometimes fall into various sinful states. It’s always a sin to be despondent; it’s always a sin to be disgusted; it’s always a sin to be angry. It’s always a sin to feel numb or overwhelmed because of what’s happening. These sins are because of our human condition; we should not be afraid to call things sins, just because we experience them often. They are sins! Jesus Christ came to help us put off our sin. We need to call a spade a spade and a sin a sin.
We all have opinions. Our opinions will not save us, except those opinions which drive us to follow the commandments of Jesus and especially love and prayer. Other people have opinions. In our cancerous society, if we hold any type of Christianity we will be verbally abused and possibly physically abused. It doesn’t matter what those people think about us. What I mean by this is, it doesn’t matter to your soul.
It might matter to your body. You might lose a job or something worse. But other people’s opinions about you are not going to affect you. Remember the old nursery rhyme about sticks and stones! Of course, public opinion will affect public policy, and public policy can help or can harm. But you cannot be injured by people’s opinions about you, unless you allow them to harm you.
What is the cure for numbness, despondency, anger, feeling overwhelmed by the evil in the world? The cure is prayer. The Cure is Jesus!
It doesn’t matter what other people think about you or anybody else. Regarding your soul and your prayer, it doesn’t matter if the world is doing evil things. The only way the world’s evil should affect your prayer, is to increase it. It matters that you pray.
Pray the psalter, do prostrations, do bows, take a walk and pray the Jesus prayer.
Anything like that will help you to be less anxious. Do not be lazy regarding attendance at our Church services. Make yourself a rule. If you are capable of coming to your church, you should command yourself to come! This command must come from within you, it is an internal command that should rest in your heart. You should especially prepare for the holy mysteries by the evening Vespers services, confession, and saying the communion rule and fasting. All of these spiritual exercises will help us overcome the bad thoughts that come to us because of our society’s bleak future. But Orthodox Christians have an excellent heavenly future!! Jesus led the way for us.
Today, the Sunday after the feast of our Lord’s Nativity, we recall Jesus’ trip to Egypt, bringing the presence of God to the world. Our Lord, even in His infancy, teaches us that the Christian faith is a missionary faith and that no matter where our lives take us, whether we go as kings or as refugees or as martyrs, we proclaim the coming of Christ, the presence of God in this present world. Where ever we are, whatever we are doing, we are missionaries and by our lives we bring God to the world.
Christ is Born, Amen!