Matthew 2:13-23

New Year’s Day

St Barbara’s 1.1.2023

Rev Jeremy Bevan

Out cycling one day this week, I passed a house in Kenilworth with a giant inflatable Father
Christmas on display. He was a sad sight: deflated, limp, no longer the grinning red-robed
figure bobbing in the breeze I’d seen before Christmas. Does a sad Santa capture our mood
now the razzmatazz of Christmas has died down? Now we’ve waved the visitors off, eaten
all the food, opened all the presents? Now that what lies ahead is a dim awareness of the
daily grind about to start up again, new diets (if diets are your thing) and a renewed
determination to keep our heads above water in what’s likely to be another difficult year?

I wonder whether Joseph in our gospel reading felt something like that? Now he’s waved off
his son’s strange visitors, their odd gifts packed away, is he dismayed to be going home, and
maybe having to face more gossip about Jesus’s parentage? Daunted by what lies ahead for
this child who will become the savour of his people? Doubtful God could work from such an
unpromising start? If it was difficult for Joseph to get off a treadmill of old, anxious,
wearying conscious thoughts, God does something new, breaking into his subconscious via
an angel’s dream that assures him: “you are part of something bigger, you matter very much
to God.” Caught up in our own anxieties, our old familiar worries and cares, is there a
danger we might miss God reaching out to us in new ways? As Victoria reminded us two
weeks ago, God longs to be in touch with us. Keep looking out this new year, then, for fresh
assurances about your place in God’s unfolding vision for things.

Guidance from God via a dream or otherwise doesn’t always smoothe the path ahead of us.
The command to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt meant Joseph relocating his family to that
most daunting of destinations for Jews, Egypt. There, Joseph’s forbears had endured
hardship at the hands of Pharaoh. He obeys, nevertheless, and quickly, fleeing that very
night. Matthew tells us this took place to fulfil a prophecy Hosea spoke centuries earlier:
“out of Egypt I called my son.” New fulfilment of an old vision.

Making a new life in Egypt can’t have been easy. We know all too well how tough life can be
for migrants: understanding the language, getting work, dealing with officialdom. Hard, and
frustrating though it must have been, our passage records Joseph taking four small, faithful
steps as God opened up the way for the family: he ‘got up’, ‘took’, ‘went’ and ‘remained’.
Meanwhile, he looks on as Herod vents his insecurities on Bethlehem’s innocent toddlers. I
wonder how Joseph felt when he heard the news of the massacre? The reality of God’s reign
must have seemed further away than ever while a tyrant like Herod remained. Unlike
Joseph, Herod isn’t acting in response to God. In his fury, he initiates action: it’s he who
’sent’ soldiers; he who ‘killed’ all the male children under two years old; he who brings upon
Ramah, near Bethlehem, the sorrow the prophecy of Jeremiah spoke of. It must have been
hard for Joseph to hang onto any sense of Jesus as one destined to be new, good news with
so much familiar old bad news unleashed in the wake of his birth. I wonder whether this too
has a lesson for us, about hanging on in there with God this new year when the signs may be
dauntingly unfavourable, when the promise of the kingdom and new creation seem distant?

Credit, then, to Joseph for doing just that, hanging on in there, keeping that hope and sense
of expectation that God will speak when news headlines are grim and life seems out of
control. And eventually comes another dream (two in fact). These guide Joseph to Nazareth,
an insignificant, out-of-the-way little town that Archelaus, Herod’s successor, has probably
never heard of, in the backwater province of Galilee. Sometimes, God’s plans take the back-
road, the byway rather than the highway. But as Matthew sees it, this too is squarely within
the unfolding vision of God, coming slowly, quietly and patiently to fruition, and once again
in apparent fulfilment of a prophecy.

Again, I wonder: what must Joseph have thought and felt as things took another unexpected
turn? Did it rankle that the family of the one whose birth angels and wise men heralded was
now washed up in the sticks, rather than enjoying a grace-and-favour apartment right at the
heart of things in Jerusalem? Or was he now starting to see that God works in rather
different ways? Could he now look back and recount his place in God’s gracious deeds, as
the people of Israel did in that passage from Isaiah? Joseph seems to be me a great example
of the truth from Romans 8 that “in all things God works together with those who love God,
for good.” Through dreams. In circumstances, even dauntingly unpromising ones. And in
out-of-the-way places.

That truth also applies to us. It’s tempting to think “what could God want with little old me
in little old Earlsdon?”. As 2023 gets underway, isn’t it good to remember at the start of this
new year that we all have a place in God’s unfolding vision of things, of the coming kingdom,
when all things will be made new? Isn’t it exciting to expect God to be unfolding more of
that vision to us this year? Isn’t it reassuring to know God will give us grace to walk steadily
in obedience to it, finding ourselves in the midst of it as the days, the months and the year