GOD’S DREAM FOR YOU
THE LONELINESS OF EXILE
The 2nd chapter of Matthew’s gospel contains a short account of high drama. We read of the visit of a number of wise notables (magi) from the East (Iraq, probably). They visited Bethlehem to welcome the astronomically marked advent of the infant Jesus (Mt 2:1-12).
In today’s reading (Mt 2:13-15, 19-23), Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus flee to Egypt to escape from the murderous ferocity of Herod. We have the picture of Jesus as an exile and as a refugee – perhaps for about 11 years. Through the news today, we are again acquainted with the painful picture of refugees, for example, from the civil wars of Syria and Southern Sudan.
In our gospel and Jeremiah 31:7-14 there are matters which are independently affirmed in history, including Herod, Archelaus, and at that time the astronomical phenomena e.g. of two planets coinciding.
Also, many Israelites or Jews went into exile (e.g. to Egypt) and returned, at times, for different reasons. History shows that exactly the same thing then occurred with another religious group — the Qumran (religious) community. Just like the Holy Family, the Qumran community also fled to the safety of Egypt to escape Herod’s efforts to stamp out any talk of a Jewish messiah. When Herod died in 4 BC, the Qumran community returned, just as this Gospel reading today says that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus returned at that same time.
We read here of Joseph’s dreams. There are songs (like that of Frank Sinatra) exalting ‘doing it my way’, or ‘my dream’. In January 2016 we have about a dozen people who dream of becoming something great, the president of the United States. They have put everything on the line for achieving their dream. Yet only one will achieve that goal. And even the chosen among people may end up experiencing suffering more than exulting.
From the greatest to the least of people, surely all experience some level of disillusion. Perhaps you also at some time have experienced loss, alienation, loneliness, or mourning.
To flee to Egypt was not Joseph’s dream future. To be an exile wasn’t Joseph’s preferred way. But Joseph, the husband of Mary, responded to God’s dream… and took Jesus and Mary (and the donkey?) to hide in Egypt.
CALLED OUT OF EXILE
As Matthew regularly did, we have here his quotation of the Hebrew Scriptures. It refers to Hosea 11:1, which reads, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.”
Of course, an essential part — the most critical part — of the history of Israel was its captivity in Egypt, God’s call through Moses, and the Exodus from Egypt. So then, we see here Jesus as repeating and epitomizing Israel and its history. Not only does the history of Israel lead up to Jesus, but Jesus sums up the history of Israel, or is a lens through which all that history can be viewed or understood.
We can also see the history of Israel as preparing our minds to comprehend what took place in “the Jesus event” — his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension; and in the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, Egypt can be understood as a place of slavery. So then, in this birth story of Jesus, he becomes acquainted with the (Egyptian) exile and slavery of the people of Israel, or the experience of slavery of any person, or the slavery of all people to sin, or addiction.
So there re layers of depth to Matthew’s quote from the prophet Hosea, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” As God called Israel so God calls Jesus out of exile, and towards his mission and destiny — and surely, so God calls us too.
CALLED TO MISSION AND OUR DESTINY
Such elements of exile, alienation, or God’s call are repeatedly visible in the other readings we have for today. In Jeremiah 31:7-14, the loving call of God is predicted to draw the “remnant” of Israel from the farthest parts (where they have been in forced exile). Then we have that lovely Psalm 84: “One day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room.” We are called out of isolation and into a community of worship of God. In Eph 1:3-19a, God ‘adopts’ Gentiles and draws them together with Jews as one people. Further on in Ephesians, the entire creation is drawn and held together as one unit through Jesus Christ – something represented in the single cup of the Eucharist.
Our collect prays to God, “who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature, in sending Jesus to share our human nature.” On Jan 1 we have the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This is a good time to think about our name by which God calls us and God’s dream for us in the year ahead.
All of those people knew what it was to be exiled, to be called, to respond, be restored, and sent. These are matters which are repeatedly visible in the history of Israel, in world history, and in our personal history also. So surely they can be predicted to be true in our present and future experience. Thinking of the American philosopher John Dewey, that is akin to the scientific method, isn’t it?
God’s love calls us out of a nightmare (so Michael Curry) of sin or out of exile. As we respond in faith, God’s love restores us so that we can stand before God with dignity and joy. God’s love unites us in harmony with others and the whole creation.
As with all those people, God’s love sets us too on the road towards the divine dream for us, towards our true mission and destiny. Towards that divine dream and vision, we arise and shine with the glory of Epiphany.
In prayer seek God’s dream for you this week and year. It may not be easy (that ‘cup’ again). Did anyone ever find it easy? But you are not alone and there could be no more glorious journey and outcome for you and others.