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Enter God

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.
?Get up,? he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.
Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.?
 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,  Matthew  2:12-14

Just this past week in the news was the report of a man named "Chemical Ali". Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam's cousin, was one of Saddam Hussein's henchmen and got the name from his fondness at using chemical weapons, especially against the Kurds of northern Iraq. During Saddam's time thousands were gassed by this man. He threatened to bury the Kurds by bulldozers loads1
Saddam himself was totally ruthless and used  assassination and mass murder to keep his iron grip over his country.

And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.
?Get up,? he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.
Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.?
 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,  Matthew  2:12-14

Just this past week in the news was the report of a man named "Chemical Ali". Ali Hassan al-Majid, Saddam's cousin, was one of Saddam Hussein's henchmen and got the name from his fondness at using chemical weapons, especially against the Kurds of northern Iraq. During Saddam's time thousands were gassed by this man. He threatened to bury the Kurds by bulldozers loads1
Saddam himself was totally ruthless and used  assassination and mass murder to keep his iron grip over his country.

Think of a regime not unlike Saddam's when you think of Herod the Great. 
When Herod came to the throne he murdered the Sanhedrin, Judah's supreme court. Later he killed three hundred court officers out of hand. He murdered his wife Miriam and her mother, Alexandra, his eldest son Antipater and two other sons, Alexander and Aristobulus. In the hour of his death he arranged the murder of some of Judah's noblemen. So when he heard via the three Magi that there was a star in the sky signifying the birth of a king, he asked them to return and tell him the location of this new king. His intentions are clear.

In fact when the Magi are warned and fail to report to Herod, he flies into a murderous rage and sends orders to have all the male children in and around Bethlehem put to death. By the size of the community, this may have been anywhere from fifty to sixty children--a trifle to Herod.

But God has other plans and once sends an angel to Joseph in a dream. He is to take Mary and the child and flee to Egypt.
Refugees are nothing new in our world. In fact, Egypt was a favorite location for Jews wanting refuge.  Egyptian cities had large Jewish communities so Joseph and his family would easily find a friendly community for their stay. Barclay says Alexandria had up to a million Jews living there.
2

So far so good, right?
I suppose it depends on your point of view.
Think once again about being Mary or Joseph.
Life looks pretty good and they are anticipating a wedding and a normal life.

Enter God.

Mary is pregnant and Joseph is not the father. Imagine being Mary and explaining that. Imagine being Joseph and trying to get your head around that notion. Then Caesar Augustus issues a decree that forces you, nine months pregnant to walk several days for a census...so you could pay more tax.
You have your baby in a stable. Now that may not have been so bad, but it is not the norm.
You stay in Bethlehem for a while. Perhaps to wait for the gossip to settle down in Nazareth. While you are waiting an angel comes once again, and once again your world is turned upside down.
Herod is after your son and you have to get out and hide in Egypt.
Westjet does not fly to Egypt. Maybe you go by camel. Maybe you walk. All the way you hope you don't run into bandits.
Bandits were common enough that an early legend has it that the repentant thief on the cross was a man named Dismas who had first encountered Jesus and his family on the way to Egypt where he had robbed them.

The life of Joseph, Mary and Jesus is not a Victorian tableau. It is filled with hardship and turmoil and constant danger.
Every time and angel shows up Joseph's life is in turmoil.
But God has His angels caring for this little family and they are safely in His hands.

The prophet Isaiah writes in  chapter 63 which we read this morning,

In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them
all the days of old  
Isaiah 63:9 (NIV)

Just because God is at work in our world and in our lives is no guarantee of freedom from difficulty.
In fact, in the lives of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, it was a guarantee of struggle and conflict.
Why should it be any different in your life or mine?

Isaiah says in chapter 9 which we read during Advent, "the people who lived in darkness have seen a great light."
John says in his gospel,

 "in Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has neither understood it nor put it out."

Enter God

The world into which Jesus was born is a world of moral and spiritual darkness. Not total darkness, because God has provided some light. But a world in which the Herods the Caesars, the Judas's have liberty and the ability to do much harm.

Consider our world. Is a world that is primarily governed by enlightenment or darkness and brutality?
It's mixed isn't it?
But it is also a world in struggle. The spiritual forces of darkness still need to be reckoned with, and we do not yet live in the City of God.
But make no mistake, God is at work in our world and this world ultimately belongs to God.
Herod could only do what God permitted. God has His angels in charge of Joseph's family and Herod could not touch them.
That didn't mean Herod could do no damage, only that God set limits like the banks of a river.

And so we welcome the good news that God has come into our world, and so He has.
We live in a world in which we see the wonderful acts and hand of God.
We live in a world where we also see the darkest of depravity.
But it is a world over which God ultimately has control.
Consider the words of Isaiah. "In their distress, he too was distressed,  and the angel of his presence saved them".
True for Joseph and his family
True for you and true for me.
Be of good cheer. The light is shining in the darkness. His name is Jesus.
We live in a world in which we will have struggle. But God himself enters into our struggle, into our distress and the angel of his presence is at hand.

In the New Year, Georgina Houghton is going to present to the church a catalogue of all our answered prayers.
We pray for you and for others every week, Sunday morning and Wednesday mornings. And I know that people pray at other times. But Georgina has been our recording secretary of weekly prayer and is going to bring us a catalogue of all the answered prayers for the past year. I think you will be encouraged and maybe a bit amazed.

We should be delighted but never surprised.
Just last week we reported that Patsy's son had gone missing in New York state and we prayed for him.
He has been located and is well.
Notification of this was sent out by email and one came back from a member...."ah yes, once again West Shore has prayed and God has answered." The people of our little family are in distress. We ask for help.
Enter God.
He sends his angel to save them.


And why not? In Him is the life which is the light of all mankind and still shines in the darkest places.

This is repeated in hudreds of thousands, millions of churches around the globe.

Every time you pass a church, large or small remember that church and the lives it represents is a point of light in our world holding back the darkness.


I heard a story on NPR radio this week of a church, St. Mary of the Angels in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. I take it Roxbury is a poor neighborhood. St. Mary's has no elaborate building. In fact they have only a basement with a sloping roof not having the money to complete their church. That got my interest immediately. But they are a powerful church in their community having helped re-open a public library, save the community from gang warfare and be a meeting place for the many cultures of their neighborhood. Their story is different from ours because of who they are and where they are, but in many ways it is exactly the same story.
When people put their priority on people and intervening in the name of Christ, God is at work in powerful ways.


Enter God
Jesus has entered our world and has given us His light and His life.
Trouble?  Sure there will be trouble.
But when we have faith to believe that when we reach out in His name, He will be there.
He always has been and always will be.
That's what Joseph and Mary found out.
That's what we find out.

Be of  good cheer. The light shines in the world and you are part of that light.

Amen

Preached December 26, 2004
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia


Notes
1. Victoria Times Colonist, December 19, 2004
2. William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, "The Gospel of Matthew", Vol. 1, Westminster Press, 1975

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