Because of the way the church year works, we don’t have the Second Sunday after Christmas every year. We begin our celebration of Christmas on Christmas Eve, and then the season of Christmas runs for twelve days. Next, the season of Epiphany begins on January 6 with the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord as we celebrate the visit by the magi.
Depending on how the dates fall in a year, there isn’t always a second Sunday that occurs after Christmas and before Epiphany. However, I am always thankful when there is one, such as this year because the Gospel lesson assigned for this Sunday and its timing speaks directly to what Christmas means for us.
In the world, Christmas has been long over. The tree has been taken down and the decorations have been put away. Even the “second act” of the holiday season, New Year’s Eve and Day, have come and gone. And that means that the “holiday season” is finished. Christmas break ends for the kids as they head back to school this week.
All of the fun and celebrating that divert our attention are in the past. And that leaves back with our life in this world. It leaves us with the continuing disruptions of COVID – something that has affected life here at Good Shepherd very directly as our church secretary Sue tested positive this past week. It leaves us with the other health issues that afflict our life – cancer, diabetes, and heart problems. It leaves us with concerns about finances, about our job, and about how our children and other family members are doing. It leaves us in a world where sin, suffering and death are the realities that surround us every day.
During the Christmas season we have focused upon the fact that Jesus, who was conceived by Holy Spirit, was born into this world. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth focuses on Joseph’s experience. Joseph was ready to divorce Mary who had been betrothed to him, when it was discovered that she was already pregnant.
However an angel appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph learned that this was no ordinary child. And then Matthew adds, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”
The child to whom Mary gave birth was a human being, just like you. But conceived by the Holy Spirit, he was also the Son of God – the Second Person of the Trinity. As Isaiah had foretold, the virgin did conceive and bear a son. And in the miracle of the incarnation Jesus was indeed Immanuel – God with us. He was God with us – God living in this world as one of us, while still also being true God. Yet we see in our text today that Immanuel – God with us – is also the presence of God in the midst of the sin, suffering and death that we experience in our lives.
Our text begins with a happy memory as it says, “Now when they had departed.” This is a reference to the unexpected visit by the magi who had come to give homage to the King of the Jews, and had brought expensive gifts. What a wonderful and exciting time this must have been for Mary and Joseph!
But God had warned the magi in a dream not to return to King Herod the Great. And then we learn in our text, “Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, 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.’” An angel in a dream had told Joseph the wonderful news about who Jesus was and what he would. Now an angel in a dream delivers frightening news.
The angel told Joseph to get up immediately in the middle of the night so that he could take Jesus and Mary, and flee to Egypt. Herod had become aware of a potential threat to his rule, and Herod was a man who did not leave things to chance. He was a man who had no problem killing his own children when they seemed to be a threat. Now, he was seeking to kill Jesus.
Many a Christmas card has contained a depiction of Joseph and the pregnant Mary on the way to Bethlehem. This is a peaceful scene of God about to fulfill his promise to send the Christ – the Savior - into the world. But in our text we hear about a very different journey. It is one that begins with Joseph abruptly waking Mary, as they take Jesus and leave at night. This journey is not about fulfilling the bureaucratic requirements of a great empire. Instead it is a flight to escape the murder of a child.
On this Second Sunday of Christmas we continue to celebrate the incarnation of our Lord. We celebrate the fact that he is Immanuel – God with us. But we see that he came to be God with us in the midst sin, suffering, and death. At the age of barely two years old we find him homeless and on the run as his parents obey the angel’s command and take him to Egypt to escape Herod’s plans to kill him.
We all experience times of doubt. When the diagnosis is cancer, or the treatments drag on with no certainty about their outcome, there is the temptation to wonder about whether God really cares. When personal relationships in families seem always to be poisoned by anger and harsh words, we wonder about whether God is really with us. When the circumstances of life bring challenges and difficulties we never saw coming, we can find ourselves doubting God’s love and care.
Our text this morning shows us that God is with us – that he does love and care. We know this first, because God entered into our world in the incarnation as the Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. But more than that we see that Jesus Christ is God with us in the midst of sin, suffering and death. Though without sin of his own, he came to live in this world and all its ugliness caused by sin. He came to live in the midst of suffering and hardship – the same ones that we do.
But Jesus Christ came as Immanuel to do more than just live in the midst of it and experience it. The Son was sent by the Father to do something about it. After all, the angel said to Joseph that “he will save his people from their sins.” And we see this in the fact that Joseph was told by the angel to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt.
Practically speaking, the destination made a lot of sense. Egypt was a Roman province, and it was outside of Herod’s jurisdiction. It was far enough removed from Judea to be safe. And, there was a very large Jewish population in Egypt, so the family would find a welcoming setting.
Herod’s murderous scheme may have been the reason for the flight to Egypt. But the trip to Egypt was about more than just escaping to a safe place. Matthew tells us, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” The words that Matthew says were fulfilled come from the prophet Hosea. In the eleventh chapter he writes, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.”
Hosea’s statement is a description of Israel’s past. God had called Israel, his son out of Egypt. But the nation had proven to be unfaithful. Now God had sent Jesus the Christ to Egypt, so that in time he could be bring his Son out of Egypt once again. Yahweh had declared the nation of Israel to be his “son” in an adopted sense. He had then described the descendants of king David as his “son” – they were Israel reduced to one. Now God was bringing his Son out of Egypt once again. Jesus was the Christ – the Messiah. He was the son who was the nation reduced to one. Yet he was also the Son of God, begotten from all eternity.
In the prophet Isaiah, God called Israel his servant. But Israel had failed in its mission to be the means by which God brought salvation to all – to be a light to the nations. Now, God was acting through Jesus the Christ to be the true Israel - to do what Israel could not.
Jesus had come as Israel reduced to one to be the Servant of the Lord. He came to be the Servant who fulfilled Isaiah’s words: “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.” Or as Jesus said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus died on the cross in order to win forgiveness for you.
Yet he did more than that. In our text today Mathew tells us about the flight to Egypt, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” Jesus fulfilled this word of Hosea. Yet he also fulfilled another word from this prophet when he wrote in chapter six, “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.”
On the third day, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead. Through Jesus he defeated death, and began the resurrection life that will be ours on the Last Day. God has shown us in Jesus that he not only cares and understands, but that he has acted to defeat Satan, sin and death. This is the victory that he has given you in Holy Baptism as your sins were forgiven and the Holy Spirit made you a new creation in Christ.
Until our Lord returns, we continue to live in a world of sin, suffering and death. But we see in our text today that Jesus Christ is Immanuel – God with us. He entered into this fallen world because God does love you; because God does care. Jesus understands our struggles and hardships because he has lived them just as we do.
But he is also the One who has obtained the ultimate victory over sin and death. And in order to sustain us in the faith during this pilgrimage through a fallen world, he continues to be Immanuel – God with us. He is with us in the Sacrament of the Altar. For here we encounter not the two year child being taken to Egypt, but the risen and exalted Lord who is still true God and true man. Here he gives us his true body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Here he gives us food for the journey by which the Holy Spirit sustains and strengthens us in faith. Our God is Immanuel, God with us now through the Sacrament. And in each celebration he points us forward to the time when he will be God with us in the glory of his return on the Last Day.