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Sunday 1 January 2023 First Sunday of Christmas, The Holy Family

On your marks!

Matthew 2:13-23

By Richard A Trotman

Director of Christian Education, Church of God of Prophecy; Senior Pastor, Bunyan Road Christian Fellowship, Kempston, Bedfordshire

Context: New Year’s Sermon delivered to a local congregation of mixed ethnicities and ages

Aim: to encourage commitment to God’s direction for our lives

Like an athlete ready to start a new race, at this time of year many make new resolutions for the future. We resolve to change direction, deepen commitments, do less or do more, lose weight, or maybe change career. Many resolutions either never get off the ground or are aborted within days, weeks, or a few months. However, resolutions are necessary if we are to achieve effective outcomes. The challenge for us is having the right resolve at the right times!

Reading this passage in Matthew 2 about the flight of Jesus’ family to Egypt, I could not help but recognise the resolve they would require, in order to achieve the outcomes that God would stipulate through the angel’s encounter with Joseph (verse 13):

‘Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.”’ (NKJV)

Firstly, it required a resolve to listen. Often when God is speaking, we are distracted, busy with other priorities, uncertain that it’s him, too tired to pay attention. Listening is a skill that few ever master! However, Joseph would have to listen, process and act on God’s instructions/guidance. So, he does listen and, I imagine, informs his young, vulnerable family.

Secondly, they would have to process the steps involved. This would be an arduous trip, by the whole family, to a foreign country, which would raise bitter memories of their forefathers.

Thirdly, they would require the resolution to act, to go! Procrastination was not an option as the situation was dangerously heightened. We often know what we need to do to achieve the personal outcomes we desire. We can process the requirements in our minds over and over without finding the resolve to do, to act, to get up and go! The challenge on our walk with God is at times all too similar. Like Paul, we ‘know what we should do’, but the struggle is to take the necessary actions. This family moved with alacrity, a clear readiness and willingness as shown in verse 14:

‘When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt.’

I see three actions here: the first, an act of togetherness, a commitment to stay together whatever the journey or destination presented. Maybe living with isolation and prejudice! The second, an act of fleeing, leaving familiar surroundings, family and supportive friends and communities. We often associate fleeing with cowardice or weakness. However, a place of retreat is at times necessary for us to ‘live to fight another day’. The act of ‘staying put’ or waiting on the next set of instructions would be the third requirement.

The angel may not have spoken to Joseph every day, but he would definitely speak again. In-between they would just have to ‘wait on the Lord.’ How quickly does our patience wain during our waiting season(s)! Too long in this job, too long in this place, in this position, etc. The important issue is knowing that it is God requiring you to wait.

Next God speaks, and the new challenge requires another set of resolutions and actions (verses 19-22):

‘Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.’

The old song comes to mind: ‘we’re going this way, that way, forwards and backwards, over the Irish Sea’. Instructions are to go back to Israel because the heat is off (‘for those who sought the young child’s life are dead’), then a sudden change of plan and direction because new dangers have presented themselves.

Turbulence can be an unnerving time, whether on air, sea or land. Nevertheless, despite the traumas of our lives or our arduous circumstances, God still requires us to obey the Holy Spirit’s unction and guidance, so ‘on your marks, get set and go’ into God’s future for you!


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