MATTHEW 2:13-18 (NIV)
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, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
The last we heard of the angels, they were singing glory to God, joining with the shepherds and heavenly host to declare “Good News of great joy, that shall be for all people.” (Luke 2:10) The angels had been heavenly messengers of life-changing, earth-shattering, glorious news. But with this moment, the glory of a newborn king takes a dramatic and terrifying shift as the provision of an angelic visit collides with the pain of earth. In an instant, the prophecy of Simeon’s sword becomes reality for Mary & Joseph.
Joseph is startled from his sleep and called to step into his position as protector and provider as the father of this Christ child. And with the help of the Wise Men, as evaders and distractors, Joseph, Mary, and the Son of God escape the wrath of Herod, and find a home in Egypt.
I’ve known and walked with Jesus my entire life. I’ve heard this passage read or shared every Christmas, and even as I type the words I still stand in disbelief of such a horrific event. There’s simply no way to answer all the questions this brief passage raises, or highlight all its majesty. It’s overwhelming to consider the consequences of Herod’s fury, or the actions of the Divine to protect one child as so many others perished. In a few, brief verses the glory of the shepherd, prophets, and wise men came crashing down in the reality of a broken and sin-sick world, and around the newfound parents at the center of the story.
When I’m overwhelmed by a text, stuck in the detail, uncertainty, and unanswered questions, the only way I know to see through the chaos is to ask two simple questions. What does the text teach me about God? And what am I supposed to do in return? Those questions guide my focus and help me see things more clearly.
Before we take a step into those two questions, make this important note; I believe, that sometimes the enemy works in the distraction of impossible to answer questions and overwhelming details, focusing our attention on questioning God’s Word instead of the answers provided in it. So the act of obedience in reading the text is learning to discern, amid the distraction, the most valuable pieces. Though in a text like this, it’s so very easy to want purpose for the pain of the world, it’s most helpful to remember the bigger picture of the entire narrative—that is, the account of a good and faithful God at work to rescue a broken creation.
The answers to the two previous questions can always be found. Those answers help us see heaven meet earth when provision and pain collide. This text continues to teach us of God’s unfolding plan to redeem the world through his son and the means he would use to protect that plan to its end. It teaches us of His character to care, lead, and provide a way, even on the darkest nights. Even this painful text reveals the goodness of the God we worship.
And Joseph. Joseph teaches us what to do in return.
His only response is obedience; simple, actionable, response to God’s instruction through trust. He heard God’s guidance through a heavenly messenger. He trusted the directive (and the one who was behind it.) And he staked the life of his son on it. As far as we know, he didn’t question God, ask why, or offer an alternative plan. He simply executed the instruction with trusting obedience. In so doing, heaven met earth as purpose, provision, and prophecy collided in a singular trusting, obedient moment. It’s possible, that this prophecy, and God’s long-standing promise, would not have come to fruition without Joseph’s simple response. All too often, we hear God speak, nudge us in his direction, but we question his intent, mistrust his purpose, or fall to our pride as we walk in another way.
So much of the possibility for divine intervention, answered prayer, and Holy Spirit leading requires our trusting, eager doing of God’s directive . . . especially in life’s most unpredictable moments. Especially then, the possibility of living in the overlap of heaven and earth will require our quick and actionable response to what God is already doing. That kind of response will absolutely require the constant work of fighting the instinct of self-preservation and pride, to gladly walk in his will.
Joseph was a man of obedient action. His response made way for the divine moments of holy work on earth. God longs for our participation to make his plans possible. Response, action, unhesitating doing. I’m sure that’s easier when we’re in agreement with God’s request. But the heaven meets earth collisions happen when we’re obedient regardless of the request. Joseph’s eager willingness to respond to the divine directive, displays his absolute trust in God’s ability to protect and ordain the best for him, for his family, and the redemption of the world. What freedom and relief must come in living that way—even on the darkest days.
Gracious God, thank you for revealing your goodness, provision, and faithfulness in the middle of our darkest moments. You are unchanging. You are faithful. But our belief in you waivers as we struggle in the disorientation of chaos. Forgive us, Lord, for spending one moment doubting your absolute love made real in your divine leading. You love us more than we know. And you love the people we love more than we do. By your power, give us the absolute trust in your goodness to act whenever you ask, without hesitation, and with joy as we freely follow.
In Jesus’ name.
Do you have a tendency (like me) to evaluate and argue before you act in trust of God? What might be holding you back from a deeper trust in God’s goodness on the darkest night? (Doubt, trauma, grief, fear, bitterness . . . which tend to cause us to grab for control.) What might it feel like for you to blindly trust God’s provision, even on your darkest day? My guess is, God wants nothing more than the kind of relief and freedom for you that following brings.
For the Awakening,