Our message this week has to do with travelers. In our gospel reading in Matthew, Joseph is instructed in a dream to bundle up the new-born child and Mary and flee to Egypt, and is told to stay there until further notice, because Herod is on the hunt and wants to kill the child. Joseph started his travel at night and the family was well on their way by the dawn of the next day. The Holy Family lived in Egypt until Herod died. When Herod died, Joseph had another dream, and an angel told him to take his family and return back to Israel, because Herod was dead. This Egyptian departure fulfilled what the prophet Hosea had preached: “I have called my son out of Egypt”. (Hosea 11:1)
In order to appreciate this passage more fully let’s take a “readers digest” look at the history of this prophetic passage and how it points to the Christ child. Our story begins in the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve were sojourners when they left the Garden of Eden into a new world they were unfamiliar with, ‘a road less traveled’. The patriarch Abraham, son of Terah was born in what was known as Ur of the Chaldees, a city in Samaria, located in the area now known as Northern Syria. After Nahor, Abrahams brother died, Terah took Abraham and his wife Sarai, and Abrahams nephew Lot, the son of Nahor, and set out on a pilgrim’s quest for the land later known as the land of Canaan, but stopped short and settled in the land called after his name, Terah, known as the area of “Padam Aram” near the Euphrates River, an area now known as Turkey.
After the death of his father, Abraham took Sarai and Lot and continued his pilgrimage as a sojourner and foreigner to the land of Canaan, the road “less traveled”. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, who later would be known as Israel. Israel was the father of 12 sons who later became known as the “12 sons of Israel”. One of those sons was named Joseph, who definitely took a “road less traveled” to Egypt where he eventually became the second most powerful person in Egypt, next to the Pharaoh. As the administrator of all the stored grain in the land, in the times of famine all the people came to Joseph for grain. This included Jacob and his family, who travelled from Canaan, a “road less traveled”. They settled in Egypt with Pharaoh’s blessing.
In the generations that followed, things changed when Joseph died and the next generation of Egyptians came to power. The descendants of Israel became slave laborers under a new and ruthless Pharaoh. Moses was called by God to lead the descendants of Israel out of Egypt. After a series of challenges by Pharaoh to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God directed Moses and his brother Aaron to lead the descendants of Israel out of Egypt. “Out of Egypt have I called my son, “Israel”. (Hosea 11:1) They went in search of the Promised Land of Canaan, the land said to be flowing with “milk and honey”, definitely a “road less traveled”.
The journey for these people in the desert was not an easy one. We are told they were led by the Spirit for 40 years, in the imagery of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. There were a lot of twists and turns, changes in directions, mistakes, corrections, struggles, sorrowful times and times of joy and rest. Moses did not make it to the Promise Land, but Joshua, which means ‘savior’ or deliverer’ in Hebrew, led them on. This was definitely a “road less traveled”.
In between the travels of the Israelites that wondered in the desert, and Joshua that led the people into the land of “milk and honey” and the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Christ child coming out of Egypt, there were conquests of Israel by the Babylonians, who were later dethroned by the Persians. Under the Persian rule the Israelites were allowed to return to their land and rebuild their temple. Following many years of Persian/Roman Wars, Rome was the dominant power controlling Jerusalem and Judah at the time of Jesus birth.
These sojourners and traveling pilgrims were pointing to Christ, to the fulfillment of this prophecy directed to Jesus by the hands of Joseph and Mary; “Out of Egypt I have called by Son—the Christ Child”, the final fulfillment of the prophecy. And, just as Adam and Eve, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Joshua and then Joseph and Mary who traveled with the Christ child out of Egypt, so are we called to “come out of the world of uncleanness”, to live as “children of the light”, to “stand fast in the freedom we have been called to, and to walk ‘the road less traveled.”
Jesus took the road from Nazareth toward Jerusalem, a road that had many side routes to preach, to heal, and to bring the good news of the kingdom of God. As our example we are called to follow Christ on this road to our Heavenly Jerusalem, “as strangers, foreigners, sojourners, pilgrims on this journey. May our desire be for a better country, a heavenly one. God has prepared a city”. (Heb. 11:16) “For our citizenship is in heaven”. (Philippians 3:20)
This “road less traveled” is an individual journey for each of us, and it is also a collective journey as we travel together. The road is not straight. There are a lot of twists and turns, good times, hard times, corrections. Just as God directed those before us, so are we asked to walk in “step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16) as we are continually being transformed into the image of Christ… not always an easy change, but rewarding.
“Out of Egypt have I called my sons and daughters”. We are invited as the “children of God” to enjoy our Christian life now, to partake of the ‘milk and honey’ of the Promise Land as we “journey on this road less traveled” to the New Jerusalem.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen