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The Exodus, A Fleeing

by Nail-Bender in NC

based on Matthew 2:13-23

Desperation…desperation and fear. Fear that builds from deep in one's being until it almost overwhelms, until it almost petrifies. That's the fear he experienced, the fear of nightmares. Yet, this fear wouldn't stay safely tucked away in the realm of sleep. This fear was born out of reality, out of the knowledge that you were a marked man. Worse, much, much worse - it was the terror, the absolutely mind-numbing terror that your family was also marked.

He had never intended for this to be the case. He had never dreamed that this would be the case. Had he been told that one day troops would be searching for him, that those who were in power would want him dead, that he would be making his way across hostile territory at the mercy of those who might offer him shelter, at the mercy of those who might turn him over to the authorities, he would have laughed.

He would have leaned back, placed his hands on his hips and laughed the laugh of a man hearing the impossible. He would have laughed until tears came. He now knew the tears, but there was no laughter, just the gut-wrenching fear.

He knew he should not be traveling like this. It was far too damaging and far too dangerous. How does one keep a hungry child quiet? How does one explain the reasons to a suffering mother? How does one keep moving silently through the wilderness, trying to find food where one can, trying to skirt the patrols of marauding soldiers, the expanse of wilderness, the slithering and ravenous creatures, the biting insects, (pause) and always, always, the fear?

How does one do it - only by the knowledge that not doing it brings certain death, certain destruction by smashing clubs and stabbing bayonets. He could only surmise what horror his young bride must be experiencing. Yet, he pushed on, he pushed them forward.

Each day cascaded into the following day and their exhaustion grew. But each day, each step, brought them closer to their goal - a place that might offer safety, a place which might offer a refuge, at least for awhile.

He did not know whether there would be those in this other place that might welcome them. He did not know whether more horror awaited them. He did not know if here in this other place, there might also be monsters waiting for them. All he knew was that out of the darkness, God had offered up the call to go.

God had called to him and he had placed his hope in the hands of the God whom he had trusted. God had not failed him before. Certainly, now when the stakes were so high, God would not lead him to a place of rejection. Perhaps, in this new land, there might be those who would open their hearts. Perhaps, there would be hospitality to the sojourner. He grasped this hope. It was all he had left.

He grasped this hope, for in this very real drama, in his very real fear, hope was all he had left

As I thought about our scripture text this week, I was overcome by how very real all this is - especially in contrast to the story up to this point. You see, sometimes in the days of Christmas, we tend to lose touch with the realness of the gospel, the realness of the life of Christ. Now, it's easy to understand why this might be so. After all, ours is not the daily existence of the miraculous. And the story of the birth of the Christ is immersed in the miraculous -- Conception by the holy spirit, the virgin birth, the announcement by angels, the visitation to Joseph, the star which leads to the place of the birth.

We see the mighty hand of God moving in an unimaginable way, moving through the story and we are awed and amazed at the events of the supernatural, where even the heavens proclaim this one who comes.

And as we hear the words of the story and ponder the magnificence of it all, I think many of us become more than a little disconnected; even though, we might hear and believe the story of the birth. Disconnected, even though we reflect on the hope and promise of the Christ child and may even find great meaning in the promise of this new birth and new life. I think we become disconnected because ours is by in large, the realm of the real, where we go about our everyday tasks, not dwelling in the life of the miraculous, but living in the presence of a daily reality surrounded not by a chorus of angels but by the anxieties, joys, challenges, and turmoil of living.

And in today's text, we see that the new born infant and family find themselves in exactly the same reality - facing a very real threat to their survival, facing a very real King Herod who sees his rule placed in jeopardy because of their existence.

We see a family facing fear, facing the unknown, facing the possibility of death. We see a very real circumstance, a circumstance of distress, a circumstance of human tragedy which, in one form or another, enters into the life of our reality each and every day. Gone are the host of angels, gone is the proclamation of shepherds. Gone is the shining star and gone is the supernatural event where even the heavens obey.

Instead, we are left with a picture of a family fleeing for their life, the massacre of innocent children, and the nightmare and destructive force of power wielded without regard to justice. We see a world, not at peace, but in turmoil. We see a family, not at rest, but in crisis. We see a baby, not sweetly lying in a manger surrounded by God's gentle animals, but a child being rushed across a dangerous wilderness in a frantic flight of survival.

So then, (pause) after all the miraculous power displayed in the story up until this point, I think a very real response from us might be - "Well, what happened to God?" "What happened to God?"

The answer is this: God has come to be with us.

Solidly with us, for here we discover a God who refuses to stay planted in some cosmic realm of the supernatural. Here we discover a God who refuses to forego the human condition. Here we discover a God who so deeply connects with us that this God becomes a refugee.

Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, is a refugee. Here we find a God who so deeply loves us, that God takes on our condition. How remarkable this is!! For you see, God is not a God who stands apart from us. God is not a God who sits on some ethereal throne away from us, keeping a safe distance. God is not a God who says, "Look, I know you all have it hard down there but don't worry, if you live the right way and believe the right stuff, one day things will be better. " Instead, God is the God who enters the world and suffers with us. God, the God who becomes a refugee, flees with his parents through a harsh wilderness. This God suffers with us - God suffers with us.

And that changes everything. For there is no pain that we might undergo that God does not also undergo. There is no fear that we might feel that God does not also feel. There is no confusion that we suffer that God does not also suffer. Because God chooses to live with us, and God chooses to become a refugee.

And just as Jesus traveled with Mary and Joseph, experiencing the fear and concern of his parents, Jesus also travels with us through our own heartache and anguish. In this, I am reminded of My grandmother. She is gone now, but she continues to live in the lives of so many she touched. She once told of the hardest day of her life -

My cousin, her granddaughter, Lisa was ill. She was in Maxwell Air Force Base hospital but on this day she was alright. They were all in Montgomery and my uncle, Mike had spent the night in the hospital. He came back to the house early in the morning and said, she is okay, everything is fine.

At 10:00 the phone rang and it was the hospital saying to come immediately ...

I think I'll let grandmom finish the story -- these are her words:

I couldn't believe it, I just couldn't. And of course we just left the house in just a second. And she had taken a very sudden turn for the worse. They had three doctors working over her. Just working frantically. And she died in 2 hours and 31 minutes. She died at 12:31. I just couldn't believe it, I just couldn't.

The doctor, Dr. Hugh Cox came to me and said, Ms. Lester could you go with me to tell Mike and Ann. Somehow I just can't do it. And I said, "Yes, if you'll wait just a minute ... just a minute."

Grandmom continued --

I went up to the Solarium. There was nobody up there, it was just a door or two up the hall. And I walked to the window. It was the coldest, brightest, most beautiful day I have ever seen in my life. It really was. I looked up into God's blue heaven and it was so beautiful. And I asked God, I said, "God look now, if you'll just let me put my hand in yours and walk quietly, just real softly, one step at a time, just one step at a time today.

And I did go with Dr. Hugh Cox to tell Mike and to tell Ann. And it was okay, it was all alright.

And then my Grandmother made this startling proclamation -- We had a good day ... we had a good day.

You see, Emmanuel, God with us, who has entered our world in the person of this small child, this child who becomes a refugee, did walk with her. He walked with her as one who knows pain, as one who shares pain.

As God enters into the presence of the world, he entered into her presence. As God became incarnate in the life of the world, he became incarnate in her life. And as God, in the person of Jesus, flees to a new land with a heart of hope. God made it possible for her to know that same hope and to proclaim that this day, the day on which her granddaughter and my cousin died, this day was a good day. Because in the ebb and flow of life and death, in the real world in which we live, God came to her and was present to her just as God continues to be present to us. For that's the interesting thing about God. God continues to come to us, each and every day, to share our pain. And God also comes, to share God's pain with us - to share God's pain with us.

You see, Jesus does call us to share his pain, which is as much part of God, as God's joy. The pain of God is seen in the lives of the little ones, in the poor, and the marginalized. With them, God continues to walk, to flee, to suffer. Jesus makes this abundantly clear - that God comes to us in the little ones. For he explicitly tells us this in Matthew 25:40, "as you do unto the least of these, you do unto me"

So often we seek to point to a God on high, a God who continues pointing us to the underside. So often, we seek to point to a God who is about power, a God who continues pointing us to powerlessness. So often, we seek to point to a God of glory, a God who continues pointing us to those who are the most depressed, the little ones, the beggars of our reality, so much so that this God humbles himself and lives the life of the refugee.

He calls us to share his pain, to enter into the pain of the poor little one, the helpless one, the beggar, the homeless, the refugee. Not because we might call them to Christ and not because we might somehow help them. Nor are we called to help poor one because it somehow might increase the gold stars in our salvation portfolio (pause).

No, Jesus doesn't call us to share his pain, doesn't call us to clothe him, and feed him, and welcome him, and visit him in prison because doing these things might get us into heaven. He comes to us as the least of these, so that we too might be converted, As Richard Rohr the Franciscan writer and theologian says, "converted to compassion." Converted to the God who humbles himself as a refugee . Converted to see God who tells us we can find him in the weak, in the small, in the dirty, in the prisoner, in the hungry, in the sick, in the stranger.

For if we allow Jesus to transform us so that we can see God in those whom we consider absolutely the most unworthy of our culture, perhaps, just perhaps, we might be able to recognize God who dwells in our own poverty, the God who dwells in our own brokeness, the God who dwells in that place where we run from our fears, in that place where we, too, become a refugee

And perhaps, in those places where we are the most hurt, the most humble, in those places of our inner world where we are in solidarity with the most damaged of our outer world, we will discover that just as Jesus becomes one with their pain, Jesus becomes one with our pain. Thus, in accepting the Jesus who comes as a refugee, we accept that part of us which is the most broken and we can say, "I, too, am loved as a fragile, little one of God."

Just as the young wife, child, and father discovered:

For finally, after fleeing for so long, after suffering such pain, finally they came to the expanse of water, the water which offered the possibility of life, the possibility of rest. And they crossed.

Behind them, in that other place, the killing went on. The children were gathered together and they were slaughtered. They were slaughtered along with anyone who sought to protect them. They were slaughtered for no other reason than they proposed a threat to the structure of power.

The cries of the mothers, the cries of the fathers, the cries of anguish were offered up to all who would listen, and the cries were greeted with the silence of an apathetic world. The cry of God was greeted with apathy.

The man and his family walked slowly away from the water, still fearful, for they were of another culture, another land, and they knew that now, they were at the mercy of the inhabitants of this new place, this place of Exodus. But at least now, they might have escaped the stabbing bayonets. At least now, they might just have a chance. Still the question lingered, "Would these people welcome them?" Always the fear.

Through tears shed for those who would never escape, the man looked back toward the land he had left, and then he saw it, the sign, hand-lettered in runny red paint - a symbol of Egypt , a symbol of hope -

"You have crossed the Rio Grande - No Illegals Allowed."

Welcome home. Mary, Jesus, and Joseph - welcome home.

May God give us the courage to see the Christ who lives in the brokeness of the least of these, to accept and love him in the brokeness of the refugee, the refugee who comes to us from afar, and the refugee who dwells within our very souls.