Readings & Notes from Sunday 3rd January 2021
[60:1] “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
 Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
 “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip.
 Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come.
 Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD.
[2:1] After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem  and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
 When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'”
 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
 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,  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.”
 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt  and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead.”
 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,
 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Wise Men, and Joseph, Mary and Jesus, and,
Journeying from the past to the present and beyond -
Matthew 2:1-23 Introduction
Late last year there were a few jokes around about being able to see clearly in 2020 - how wrong. No one saw what was coming in terms of the pandemic as no one sees all sorts of events that can happen, good or bad, that have a deep impact on life. The pandemic is just adding to and exacerbating the more normal unforeseen events of life and of course has affected just about everyone in the world!
Through our extended reading from Matthew, I want us to follow wise men and Jesus and family on their journeys and look to what God says to us on our ongoing journeys of life and faith in the living God through Jesus the Saviour. As we have moved into a new year just reflect briefly on what 2020 brought and what you 'anticipate' for 2021 but with caution on the latter!
I have six headings
Five start with 'S' and one nearly does - you'll have to wait for that.
1. Searching - vv 1-6 What is really behind the journey of wise men / magi from probably Babylon to Israel, a journey of over 900 miles that would take a long time, be difficult and costly?
We are talking about a journey of nearly 2000 miles with a camel train and taking supplies of tents, food and water with servants and a whole lot else.
Forget three wise me, yes, three gifts, as we don't know how many, but there would have been many others and they would have joined a bigger group, for safety, travelling such a long way. This isn't a trip to the local beach.
They were probably astrologers and although we are warned in the bible against such 'arts' God can use what he wants for his purposes.
So, something in the heavens made them set off on this journey but a star in itself seems an inadequate explanation for them to go seeking a new born 'king of the Jews'.
Could there be something else and most of what follows I say with caution.
First - facts. The Jews had been in Exile in Babylon for something like 70 years. Ezekiel was speaking to the Jewish exiles there in Babylon and giving them messages from God along with challenges, encouragement and rebukes!
Daniel, and other 'prime' Jewish youths were initiated into the Royal court where Daniel, not least had a considerable impact on it and the kings, he was there a long time and of course Babylon was also taken over by the Assyrians during his time and he had an impact there too.
All that was 6th and 5th century BC and we read of incredible events of that impact in the first part of the book.
In the second half there are various prophecies which include references to one to be born who could be seen as the Messiah, an anointed king for the Jews.Second, now more speculative, from all of that was something left behind in that court that these magi picked up and went with and led them to come to search for a King.
Let's face it they wouldn't make a journey such as theirs unless there were something highly significant about this particular king. Remember the Jews were the ones held captive and treated virtually as slaves and this now is something big. Something goes wrong. They have some guidance yet go to Jerusalem. Was this an example of one in the group not trusting the GPS star.? Are you with me? There you are driving along, the Sat Nav says left and a passenger says, no, that's not correct, right! Someone said, 'Jewish kings live in Jerusalem and that's where we have to go' and they do and its - wrong! We can understand why Herod is alarmed, threats to his throne and all the rest' but why the whole of Jerusalem with him?
Jerusalem was on trade routes from all over, but, first we have these, no doubt, regal men who may have worn court robes so they looked splendid as they arrived. In addition there was their entourage and it would have been like the circus coming to town and I don't say that derisorily but in terms of the spectacular. Also, they are looking for a new born king and as far as the court in Jerusalem was concerned there wasn't one! Herod wanted to know the truth, where is the Messiah, God's anointed one, to be born and his specialist tell him from the book of Micah - Bethlehem.
The journey and the plot continue!
2. Scheming - vv 7-8 Herod, feeling threated, did what many did and do, even though Jesus posed no threat, prepared a plot to get rid of the opposition. Grizzly, nasty and sick. But, happened and happens too often - get rid of threats and opposition.
3. Seeing - vv 9-12 They leave and head south from Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem guided by the star - wrong way for stars to travel - and it stops over the house where the toddler and his family are living. Yes, Matthew indicates Jesus is no longer a baby but more a toddler by the word he uses for child. The star GPS did it's job and made it clear where the child was. They worshipped him - appropriate for the Lord and King of heaven and earth. They gave gifts that seem prophetic for his life, which would also be valuable in aiding what was to follow. They also represent something that the early church would be slow to grasp and that is that Jesus was not just for Jews but everyone.
Even we struggle with taking Jesus to all!
Then, because of Herod's evil scheme, being warned in a dream, they journey home another way and don't report back. However, Herod's evil means Jesus and parents have to embark on a totally unexpected journey.
4. Escaping - vv 13-15 Joseph is told by God to flee to Egypt with his family and this is a 200 mile plus journey depending on route and destination. Here we have something slight odd and seemingly contradictory.
Many of the prophets had waded the Jews against alliances with the Egyptians because when all is said and done God took a lot of effort to get them out of Egypt.
Why then did he want Jesus there until Herod was dead?
Surely there were other places just as safe. No. You see, God has an eye for detail.
He brought Israel out of Egypt and as we read in Psalm 80 Israel was the vine he took from Egypt and planted in the land of Israel.
Jesus is the true vine, the true Israel, John 15. He is the one who is going to be all that Israel never was to their Lord and God - holy, true to him and totally obedient.
As such, when Jesus returns from Egypt a second Exodus begins which is to have a climax at the last supper, the Passover celebration, Jesus shared with his disciples the night before the cross.
The journey to true freedom is now complete and following the cross and resurrection the way is set for the journey to the ultimate promised land - a new heaven and earth with all who are in Christ transformed to live in this place by nature of having being given bodies that are immortal and imperishable.
'Out of Egypt I called my son' - a quote from a very powerful passage in Hosea 11 where God speaks with maternal passion of his people who he brought from Egypt but who refused to take him seriously. Jesus is called out of Egypt when Herod died and so fulfilled this longing of God for one who would be faithful and obedient which Jesus was - even to death on a cross - the faithful and true servant of the Lord.
The magi journeying home without seeing Herod led to something terrible, namely
5. Slaughtering - vv 16-18 This is the most ghastly part of the birth narratives which is truly shocking. It is also another indicator of the age of Jesus at the arrival of the magi - under two and under two year old boys suffered because of enraged and jealous king who wanted rid of any potential rival and stopped at nothing to achieve it.
Of course, there was no rival and what he did was a pointless waste of life but then some years later his brother was to be complicit in the death of Jesus and later still of others in the early church.
6. Settling - vv 19-23 The text tells us their reasoning for going back to Nazareth although it could appear that it was a sudden choice.
Of course we know, from Luke, the family were from Nazareth and went to Bethlehem with good reason. Matthew's readers don't know that bit so he just tells them this is where they went to live. This part of the journey keeps them well out of the way of the latest in line of the Jewish royal family and in a place where Jesus can grow up in safety and enjoying a good number of years of what we might call 'normal human life' before embarking on the next part of his journey.
We have followed two sets of journeys and I hope that may cause us to reflect on those we are involved in and relating that to our journey of faith.
The first was of the magi following 'guidance' that could have turned out to be a wild goose chase. Perhaps there are times we think we may be being guided by God in a particular long and arduous journey. How do we know if it is right? Perhaps, by seeing where we end up or if we draw real blanks by looking afresh at what he is saying.
The second is Mary and Joseph with their little guy and fleeing to Egypt as a result of a dream but in obedience to God. Did they ever find out the actual atrocity of Bethlehem? I suspect they did but only after they settled back in Nazareth. Sometime we wonder why things have happened and want to know. Sometimes we see dimly, other times clearly and yet others, nothing.
Walking with God our Father, in faith, can be risky, costly and sometimes we feel astray. We are called to trust and obey so how do we react when we feel called?
Plump for safety or take the step of faith and go and then see . . . I note - Human nature is prone to take the least line of resistance!
Jesus took up a cross for us out of faith and obedience and said, for my sake and that of the kingdom, do similarly if you want to follow me.
Yet too often we, and the church, sit comfortably and conservatively - that's how we've always done it, no point changing now!
What new opportunities are we personally going to have to grasp in 2021? Who knows but will we still have to face and handle what comes?
Who knows what is going to happen to them in 2021? We might rather not know, but how will we handle what comes?
On whom will we rely to lead and who will we keep on following through thick and thin?
Only God our Father is the one to ultimately trust in all matters even though we value and seek the guidance and counsel of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
What will the Church face, what will your church face, what will this chaplaincy face?
Let's not try and guess, but rise with faith in him who has only good things for those who love him and have been called according to his purposes. (Rom 8:28)
The day you and I said in response and commitment to God, in Jesus name, 'my life is yours whatever you want I will do it' (they were mine - what were yours) we started on a journey.
As Christians we are part of a family, the church, and with fellow Christians we are involved in various journeys. Like the magi, like Mary and Joseph, we step out in faith and love with our heavenly Father under the guiding of the Holy Spirit in obedience to Jesus and keep on going with this journey remembering that we are to bring glory to God who has called us