The gospel today is the holy family’s travel to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath and subsequent return to Nazareth to fulfill the prophecy. There is great comfort to know that God’s guidance can keep us safe. This also helps us recognize how “the plan” for us works. But I want to draw you attention to the Psalm—how lovely is your dwellingplace, O Lord of Hosts. Take time to re-read this wonderful psalm. Now, stretch your thinking a bit. Could this psalm be about a house of worship? Of course, it can. Could it be about the earth on which we live? Oh, yes, it is. Wait, more stretch—is it about our bodies? Well I think so. In fact, I think of “dwellingplace” as whatever I believe God has created for me to live within, physical and metaphysical. How wonderful is that!
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After the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, 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.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”
sermons4kids: “As you know, the wise men did not have a map to guide them to Bethlehem, but they had something even better—they had a star to guide them. So the wise men followed information that the priests had given to Herod and the star that God had given to guide them and they led them right to Jesus. When they found him, they gave him gifts and bowed down and worshiped him.”
Collect: O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
Reflection: How have you received “grace upon grace” in your life through Jesus Christ? Can you think of times when God has turned your mourning into joy, your sorrow into gladness? Does the incarnation of Christ call us to “make flesh” the love of God for others?
Practice: Staying with the stretched concept of the psalm, take a moment to write down how you see the space around you as a dwellingplace, created specially for you.
Saint Focus: The editor has always been fascinated by the story of Elizabeth Anne Seton so I highly recommend your reading it. However, this week lets learn someone new—Mary Slessor, missionary, 1915. She was a missionary to Nigeria who gained confidence of locals so was able to bring the gospel and champion women’s rights. She was striking in the Nigerian environment as she was blue-eyed and red-haired. She rescued twins from local tribal infanticide. She remained in Nigeria, even when her health began to fail, and died there in 1915 [from the Calendar of the church year according to the Episcopal Church.]
This week, the saints under consideration were :
- 4; Elizabeth Annd Seton, Monastic & Educator, 1821; AND Thomas Atkinson, Bishop, 1881
- 5; Sarah, Theodora & Syncletica of Egypt, Desert Mothers, 4th – 5th c.
- 6; The Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ
- 8; Harriet Bedell, Deaconess and Misisonary, 1969
- 9; Julia Chester Emery, 1922
- 10; William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1645
- 11; Mary Slessor, Missionary, 1915
Ear Worm: “The Three Kings” by Peter Cornelius (always reminds me of Neal Clamp); “We three kings“, traditional hymn sung in simple style (for older readers think “Peter, Paul, and Mary”) and video presentation; “The Star” by Mariah Carey
Eye Candy: “Flight into Egypt” (1423) by Gentile Fabriano; “Russian icon of flight to Egypt“, bottom section showing Egyptian idols falling down before Jesus; “Rest on the flight to Egypt” by Luc-Oliver Merson in Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
Movies/Videos: “The Messenger” (1999), unusual take on Joan of Arc; “Mr Holland’s Opus” (1997), following the 30 year history (and impact) of a music teacher; “How to train your dragon“, (2010), how to fulfill your purpose.
Special note: The closeness of Epiphany to the Second Sunday of Christmas for this year means there are many more resources. Enjoy!
Joseph’s acceptance of Mary and the direction of his life is sometimes described as “radical” in that it diverts from what was the “norm” in his day. Law and cultural practice would dictate a divorce, at the minimum, or a stoning for Mary. Joseph chooses to disobey civic, cultural, and religious law and practice to follow the instructions from God’s angels. His was a “disobedient obedience.” Can you think of modern-day examples of disobedient obedience. For more ideas, check out this article. Reflect on: What cause might be worth disobedient obedience? When might following God put one at odds with following law? How does one weigh the cost? What might Joseph’s story teach us?
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From Frank Logue, Sermons that work (Episcopal) website:
. . . This week in our Gospel, we hear the painful truth that when Jesus was born, Herod struck out against innocent children in Bethlehem. And yet, we learn more about the Creator, as God’s plan cannot be thwarted. God loves us so much that he is willing to enter into the pain and suffering of this world to redeem it. Even as Herod could exercise his free will to do the unthinkable and end too many innocent lives to secure his power, Herod still did not have the power to stop God’s love and the plan of salvation for all. Yes, the world is fallen. Yes, those who wish to do evil have the free will to act on their wrong desires, but the free will of those who commit evil is powerless to stop the love of God. Evil exists for but a painful, tragic moment when compared to God’s eternal love.
What God did in Bethlehem during the tragedy of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents was to be present to those babes in life and then to be with them always in eternal life when they died. For the parents, God remained with them in the tragedy and stayed with them always, never departing from those in pain, even in the darkest tragedy. God does not abandon us to suffering but remains with us in the midst of our pain and loss. Then, God works with all the terrible pain we humans cause, bringing good even out of unimaginable tragedy and loss.
The Bible does not hide the painful truth of the world as it is. Scripture does not try to pretend that all is well. Throughout the text, we see the painful truth of the world: that given the free choice to do good and to love others and act on that love, many will distort the image of God within them and do unspeakable things. Yet, God does not let this stand unchallenged. Herod could not put out the light of God’s presence born in Bethlehem. Herod could not steal the gift of love which was Jesus.
In answer to the evil humans do, God offers love. Real, enduring, eternal love. Love that in time will break the power of evil and death. Yes, we see that an evil tyrant could use the gift of free will to do evil. But we also see that evil could not and did not win a victory in Bethlehem and it will never win an ultimate victory in all creation. The power of love can and does defeat evil. Love will win out in the end.