07 January 2020

Homily for Second Sunday after Christmas (2020)

"Freedom Fulfilled"
Matthew 2:13-23

Today our Infant Lord shows us how He fulfills our freedom. In His flight to Egypt our Lord Jesus reenacts and fulfills God’s exodus salvation for us sinners.

First, we see Joseph, Mary, and our Infant Savior fleeing to Egypt as a safe haven. This happened repeatedly in the Old Testament. In Genesis 12, Abram fled to Egypt during a time of famine. That was also when Abram tried to pass his wife Sarai off as his sister. It seems even faithful Abram had some difficulties trusting in God’s protection. But God still took care of His servant Abram by sending him to Egypt.

In Genesis 37, one of Abram’s great-grandsons, Joseph, son of Jacob, was sold as a slave and taken to Egypt. Later he was imprisoned on a trumped up charge of sexual misconduct. As God’s providence would have it, Joseph was later released from prison and became second in command of all Egypt. That’s when he prepared the land for a severe famine and managed the resources through the famine. All of it revealed how God was with him.

Then, in Genesis 46—our first reading—God tells Jacob, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt.” Now this was a big deal! About 30 years earlier, God had told Isaac, Jacob’s father, “Don’t go to Egypt; don’t leave the land I’m giving you” (Genesis 26). But now it’s another time of famine. And here in Genesis 46, God wants to protect and provide for Jacob and his family by sending them to Egypt. God also wants to reunite Jacob with his long-lost son, Joseph. So He gives Jacob a mighty promise: “there I will make you into a great nation.” For our Old Testament fathers in the faith, fleeing to Egypt often meant going to a safe haven.

So Infant Jesus also flees to Egypt as a safe haven—for refuge from wicked King Herod. Jesus is born, but even for Him life is no bed of roses. He quickly becomes a refugee. He is hated and hunted down. The Magi had come to visit and worship the new-born King Jesus. Then they left by another route and did not go back to Herod. Herod was furious! You see, Herod had a history of brutally eliminating any and all perceived threats to his throne. So he especially wanted to destroy this Newborn King. And God instructs Joseph—Jesus’ guardian—to take Mary and the Child and flee to Egypt. They would find refuge there, but it would not be their home.

What can we take away from all of this? We Christians are in the world, but not of it. Outside of the Divine Service, there’s no such thing as heaven on earth. Remember what Jesus said before Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn. 18:36). And St. Paul insisted on boasting “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). Let’s remember this in the “culture battles” we face year in and year out. It’s what we face in keeping Christ in Christmas. It’s what we face when many voices reject our Christ-confessing Christmas hymns and decorations. It’s what we face in speaking up for and defending the unborn. It’s what Christians face on university campuses. It’s what Christian business owners face as the culture tries to “redefine marriage” and penalize them for standing on God’s Word and will. The Egypt of this world is not so welcoming of us Christians!

St. Paul would remind us to rely on our Savior, not the state of our culture: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:20-21).

For the Old Testament saints and for our Infant Savior, fleeing to Egypt did mean going to a safe haven. But Egypt was also a place to flee from. And fleeing from Egypt means freedom from slavery.

In Exodus, Moses led the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Israel had been there for over 400 years and enslaved for much of that time. We even read of baby boys being slaughtered in Egypt to keep the Hebrews from becoming too strong. So God raised up Moses and protected him from the widespread slaughter of innocent baby boys. Moses grew up as an Egyptian in the household of Pharaoh’s daughter. Then he fled from Egypt. Then he returned to lead God’s people out of slavery and oppression. Of course, Moses delivered God’s Ten Commandments, and then he led the children of Israel through the wilderness for 40 years.

So when Infant Jesus returns out of Egypt, He is reenacting everything the children of Israel went through. The prophet Hosea had proclaimed, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos. 11:1). Jesus doesn’t just reenact the exodus from Egypt, though; He fulfills it. In fact, He gives it a whole new meaning. Coming out of Egypt means freedom from slavery—especially freedom from slavery to sin.

You and I may not be freed from our Egypt of this world until the Last Day, but we are freed from our slavery to sin even as we journey through this wilderness. We Christians get to flee the Egypt of our sin and death. We are freed to live all of life with our Suffering Savior. How so?

When the children of Israel were delivered from Egypt,  they were set free by the death of the first-born of all of Egypt. They were baptized as they crossed through the Red Sea on dry ground. They were freed to live with God. As they wandered through the wilderness, God fed and sustained them with the food called “manna.” We Christians are set free from sin and death by the death of Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God. We are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. In that Baptism, we are freed to live with God—with our Suffering Savior—for all of life. This Little Savior who fled to and from Egypt makes us His people. We confess our sins, and He forgives us. He also feeds and sustains us with the food of His very Body and Blood right here on earth under the bread and wine.

You see, from His earliest days as God in man made manifest, our Lord Jesus was the Suffering Savior who comes for us suffering people. We need Him to fulfill the freedom first revealed in the Old Testament.

Have you ever noticed that the Apostles’ Creed does not say much about the earthly life of our Lord Jesus? Only one verb is used between His Birth and His Crucifixion—the verb “suffered.” He was “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” Our Lord Jesus came to live our life, the way we live it—in suffering. And He came to rescue us from it. And He has freed you from it.

But, pastor, we still suffer! We suffer from illnesses of various kinds. We suffer from economic uncertainties, family discord, violence in the streets, even shootings in churches. We suffer scorn just for being Christians. How can you say that Jesus has freed us from our suffering?

St. Peter is most helpful for us this morning: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you…. If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name [of Christ]…. Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Pet. 4:12-19).

When Jesus flees to and returns from Egypt, He is showing you that He is your true Deliverer. He comes to fulfill your freedom—freedom from sin and death, even if and when you do suffer. “Because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18). Our Savior came to take the place of Israel, and now He still comes to take our place and walk with us. That’s how He fulfills our freedom from sin and death. Amen.

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