Sunday, January 2, 2022

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Christmas - Gen 46:1-7


Christmas 2

                                                                                      Gen 46:1-7



          “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life.”  That’s what the aged Jacob told Pharaoh when he met the Egyptian king. It certainly is a pessimistic assessment.  Jacob had indeed experienced many hardships. Of course, some of these he had brought upon himself.

          Jacob had swindled his twin brother Esau out of his birthright as the first born for a bowl of soup when Esau was famished.  Later he stole Esau’s blessing from their father Isaac by tricking the old man into thinking that he was in fact Esau.  Rebekah his mother coached Jacob, her favorite son, about how to do this.  When it became clear that Esau intended to kill Jacob, she had Jacob sent back to Haran, in what is today southern Turkey, to live with her brother Laban.

          Jacob left from Beersheba, the place mentioned in our text.  During his journey he had a dream in which he saw a ladder that went from earth to heaven. The angels of God were ascending and descending, and God stood above it. 

Then God said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Yahweh repeated the patriarchal promise he had spoken to Abraham and Isaac, as he promised the land of Canaan, many descendants, and that in Jacob’s offspring all people would be blessed. Then he added, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Jacob met his great love in Rachel, but tricked by his uncle he also had marry her sister Leah.  Through these two women and their handmaids, God blessed Jacob with twelve children – eleven sons and a girl.  In spite of Laban’s schemes, God blessed Jacob with flocks and wealth.

Finally, after twenty years, Yahweh told Jacob that it was time to return to Canaan. Though Jacob was still fearful of Esau, he returned and found that his brother had forgiven him. When back in Canaan, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel and said, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you.” Again, Yahweh promised to give Jacob numerous descendants and to give him the land of Canaan.

Life back in Canaan was not all roses.  Jacob’s beloved Rachel died giving birth to his son Benjamin.  His three oldest sons did things that brought shame upon the family.  But the worst thing was that the blatant favoritism Jacob showed toward Joseph – the son of Rachel – caused his other brothers to despise him.  Their animosity finally prompted them to sell Joseph into slavery and to fake his death.  Jacob was utterly crushed by the loss of his favorite son. 

Of course, Joseph was not really dead.  Instead through a series of events God had continued to bless him.  Having interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams about how seven years of plenty were going to be followed by seven years of famine, Joseph was now second in charge in Egypt. The years of famine had arrived, and it affected the whole region.  Jacob had sent his sons to Egypt to buy food, and in the course of these interactions Joseph had revealed himself.  Jacob had learned that his son was alive, and was a man of great power in Egypt.  At Pharaoh’s bidding, Joseph had now sent wagons to bring Jacob and his family to Egypt where they would have no shortage of food.

Yahweh had promised to give Jacob many descendants.  He had promised to give him the land of Canaan.  And he had promised that in his offspring all nations would be blessed.  Jacob was not a great nation. All told, there were seventy people he could count to his name.  He did not possess the land, and now he was in fact being told to leave it by going to Egypt. And how all families of the earth would be blessed in his offspring was a mystery.

We learn in our text that at that moment God spoke to Jacob.  He said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes.”  Just as God had spoken a reassuring promise when Jacob first left Canaan to go to Haran, so now he said that in Egypt he would make Jacob into a great nation. In words that are emphatic in Hebrew he assured Jacob, “I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph's hand shall close your eyes.”

At that moment, all Jacob really had was the promise of God.  He numbered all of seventy people and was being told to leave the very land he was supposed to possess.  Clearly, Jacob was hesitant about the idea of leaving, because Yahweh says in our text, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt.”

Our lives are often characterized by the need to trust in Scripture’s promise of God’s loving care.  We see this when we face health concerns that make life challenging, or even threaten life itself.  We see this when we face uncertainty about our schooling or career.  We see this when we face setbacks that we did not expect, and our plans are called into question.

At these times, our trust in God wavers. Doubt creeps in about his care.  Faith begins to give way to fear. Now these seem like very natural responses, but they are natural only to the old Adam.  And so we must confess them for what they are – sin in our life.

In accordance with his timing, God kept his promises.  Jacob’s descendants did turn into a numerous people – the people of Israel.  God did bring his people back to the land of Canaan, and he enabled them to conquer it and make it their own.  He turned them into a mighty kingdom under David and Solomon.

But just like us, the nation of Israel did not always trust God.  Faith gave way to fear as they sought out other gods upon whom they could trust. While Israel as God’s servant was meant to be a light to the nations, they instead profaned his name. They were unfaithful, and as God had warned they received the punishment of exile.

But God never forgot his promise repeated to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that in their offspring all nations would be blessed.  Matthew begins his Gospel with the words, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”  He sets forth that Jesus is the offspring of Abraham.  Conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary, when Joseph took Jesus to be his own, he made him part of the line of David.  He made him the Christ.

In our Gospel lesson we hear about how an angel warned Joseph in a dream that Herod the Great was seeking to kill Jesus.  He told Joseph to flee to Egypt with the child and his mother.  Just as Jacob and his family went down to Egypt, so did Jesus. And then when the time was right, after Herod had died, an angel told Joseph to take Jesus back to Israel.  Matthew tells us, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’” These words in Hosea chapter eleven describe the experience of the nation Israel.  But we learn here that as the Christ and the Son of God, Jesus fulfills what the nation was meant to be. He is Israel reduced to one. He will pass through the water of his baptism into the temptations of the wilderness.  But where the nation of Israel failed, Jesus will be faithful.

Because our trust in God wavers; because doubt creeps in; because faith begins to give way to fear, Jesus Christ walked the path set forth by the Father in complete faith and trust.  When the angel explained to Joseph why Mary was pregnant he said, “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  Jesus came to bring forgiveness – a forgiveness that is for all people.  He announced how he would do this when he said “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Jesus offered his life on Good Friday.  He took our sins and was forsaken by God as he received the judgment we deserved.  Our Lord knew the suffering and sacrifice that was ahead of him. But he also knew the victory that the Father would provide through him.  As they prepared to enter Jerusalem he told the disciples, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

God the Father raised Jesus from the dead on Easter.  He defeated death, and demonstrated that he is faithful in keeping all of his promises.  Baptized into Jesus, you have the assurance that you are the forgiven child of God.  Because of what God has done in his Son, Jesus Christ, we see that God can be trusted in the midst of all circumstances.  He has given us his Spirit – the Spirit of Christ – to sustain us in that faith as we live each day.

In our text today, God says to Jacob, “I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again.”  God promises to be with Jacob.  During this season of Christmas we celebrate the birth of the One whom Isaiah described as Immanuel – God with us.  Jesus has been God with us in the flesh as he lived in this world and died on the cross for our sins.  He is God with us because he has risen from the dead. 

He is God with us now through his Means of Grace as the One who has all authority gives us forgiveness for the times and ways we have failed to trust and believe in God. Through these means his Spirit strengthens us in faith to face the challenges of trusting and believing in this fallen world. And because Jesus is the risen and ascended Lord, we live with hope because Jesus will be God with us in glory on the Last Day.
















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