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New Year Message
BIRTH AND EARLY NATIVITY OF CHRIST
WAS ALSO A PROFOUND TEST OF JOSEPH AND MARY:
JUST AS NEW BIRTH IN CHRIST BRINGS TRIALS
AND BLESSING TO OBEDIENCE
Luke 2, Matthew 2
Christmas is a season where good cheer is to prevail, in commemoration of the coming of the Prince of Peace who, though He was murdered in a warlike manner, made of this a sacrifice for sin, so that even those who warred against Him, if repentant, might receive the peace He thus secured. The new Year, 2011 brings forward questions and answers for living, right from their nestling place in the Christmas wonder. Look back before looking on, then. There are the trio, Joseph, Mary and Jesus. There is the murderous King Herod. There is the event: the wise men have come and given notable attestation of the world-wide significance of this Christ, of which the Bible had already spoken so much. There has already been an arduous trip from Nazareth, the home town of Joseph, to Bethlehem for government purposes. They return home. In fact, Herod is now set to slaughter many children under two, to take care of the time of departure of the leaders from the East, who came to worship. This is the fact.
A warning comes from the Angel. Avoid death for the holy babe, by fleeing to Egypt - NOW.
THE SQUALL AVOIDED
There was the family. Consider the possible tensions.
Imagine now if things, in fact two people had been different.
Thus Mary could have become aware of the Lord's protective direction to leave the murderous kingdom of Herod and go to Egypt. She might have demurred, worried, troubled, upset, with post-natal depression even, deadened with dubiety and anxiety. She could have told Joseph that if he really loved her, he would not dream of taking her so far and so soon, that in fact the question now arose in her heart whether his love was a formalistic facade.
With tears streaming down her face, she could have listed the reasons why such advice as he conceived he had, namely to go post-haste to Egypt for safety from a murderously inclined King Herod, should not be followed.
Firstly, she might have referred to insects to be met on the way, and the dangers from them in their biting, in the travails of travel with one so tender in time as their baby.
Secondly, she could have noted that it would be unhygienic to expose the babe to such excesses of danger as travelling would entail, and thirdly, urged that it was precisely in such travel that they would be exposed to the searching eyes of the King, who would surely think of the possibilities that his plans would be leaked, known and acted on.
Fourthly, the fear of offending God might come up: Was this any way to glorify the Lord, and show His total control in Israel that she must go to another land! Might this not mortify the Lord and cause cursing or other troubles ? Should they not have a heart for their native land and show a better patriotism than this, to ensure that they used every possible means of grace ?
Fifthly, if Herod in Israel knew so much about things, now that the wise men had been warned away, would this not spread internationally, and might not an envious Egyptian King make it his business, while they were exposed en route or resting in his land, to exterminate a possible threat coming from such a famous birth as this, so attested by those who came from so far with such publicity!
Sixthly, the child needed a peaceable life, if there was going to be a sadness such as Simeon had forecast - did he not say (as now recorded in Luke2:34):
"Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign which will be spoken against
(yes, a sword will pierce through you own soul also
that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed)!"
Would Joseph not even listen to such a prophet as that ? for was this not a warning that the Child must have maximal peace, not pace, till the time came1
Seventhly, she might have itinerated in her arguments, did Joseph have no male concern for her, that he brutally would expose her while she was weak, and impose heavy travelling burdens (it was not as if they were in some comfortable conveyance) on her already tested frame!
Eighthly, if they had been to Bethlehem for the governmental registering, back to Nazareth, and then had some business or personal reason for visiting Bethlehem, and were found by the wise men by the awesome power of God, then being warned, went on from there to Egypt, was this not overboard! Thus Mary might have asked Joseph: Is it never enough! Is this some kind of a war ? Is it fitting that a young child should be hauled about like a sack of olives ? Let's go home, for how would Herod know where that is ?
To be sure, this would make Herod look rather less like a fox than it seems he was, less aggressively perceptive, but it might have appealed to the thoughts of some! Mary was not like that.
Christians should learn, from this episode, not to minimise the malignity of machinations of the prince of this world (John 14:30), who has nothing in Christ, and would subvert every Christian, misteach and mislead every child of Christian parents, if he could. It is necessary to take very seriously the threats to the integrity of the child, and far from refusing to sacrifice for good, be careful not to launch the young into this world as if it were their home. Was Israel their home ? Was it not their best defence! Not at all, for in their case, the very singularity of the child, the public nature of the visit by the leaders from the East, the involvement of Herod in their going to Bethlehem, would all tend to make people take an interest, learn data and make exceptionally easy to trace, the normal movements of Mary and Joseph.
How wonderful thing is divine providence, that could bring them back in the stage as it were, to Egypt, to Bethlehem, so that much of the journey to Egypt was already covered, for it was quite a distance from Nazareth. While in Bethlehem for the birth, they could wait the 8 days for circumcision, go home to their own city, and in God's time, being drawn back for some purpose to Bethlehem, then move on with this 'breather', to Egypt.
Ninthly, Mary could have whined that Joseph would have no support in Egypt, and that it was most important to have a stable home, be free from debt, and not to tempt God by incurring troubles by excessive travel and expense.
In addition to these things, and tenthly, Joseph himself could have been moved by these tendentious and troublesome considerations, either for Mary's sake, or his own, or both, and so dismissed the warning of the angel as mere internal remonstrance, escape mechanism, and so remained for what would doubtless have been the slaughter of his son, so that for years to come, he might maunder and mourn the loss and his fussiness and failure in NOT following the wisdom so clearly given.
THE LESSON LEARNT
None of these things happened. None of these temptations bore fruit. To none of these curved balls as it were, did they succumb. The wiles of the devil are not an innovation, and the lusts of the flesh are not unheard of in Christian circles. We know the bowlers, and we know the coach, Jesus Christ by His word and Spirit. More importantly, HE knows US. He knows what we need for comfort, help, reinforcement, alerting and the like: Is that not what a shepherd has towards his sheep in that sort of intimate situation as then obtained ? Does not John 10 show that he knows them by name, and calls them out ? Is he not aware of their idiosyncrasies, and how not to put undue or inept burdens on each one, individually ?
Faith is a wonderful thing when it is not ill-placed, and many do so place it, in this world or in one's own redoubtable powers or instincts or in the stars or in priests (I John 2:27). When the trust is part of the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, that activating thrust into His presence, which is not only appealing but attracting (John 12:32), so that regeneration has occurred in the heart, washing in the spirit by the blood, the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ, the very Spirit of God therefore dwelling in the heart (Colossians 1:27, Romans 8:9), then it is a line of affairs, a concourse of intimate exchange.
So are His sheep led. Static is to be avoided by obedient trust, washing as required, working as sent, abiding always, and the will of God will, by His own power, be made known by one way or another. It is ALWAYS to be tested by His word (I Thessalonians 5 - ALL things are to be tested!), and entreaty is in order, as one seeks to avoid mere self-indulgence or callow self-advancement, fear or fumbling, and do the will of God. That was precisely the prayer of Paul for the Christians at Colosse:
"that you may be worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him,
being fruitful in every good work
and increasing in the knowledge of God,
strengthened with all might according to His glorious power,
for all patience and longsuffering with joy,"
and again, to those at Ephesus,
"that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,
the eyes of your understanding being enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope of His calling,
what are the riches of His inheritance in the saints,
and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe,
according to the working of His mighty power,
which He worked in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead..."
These are found in Colossians 1 and Ephesians 1, as introductory!
Mary and Joseph then, avoided many blandishments of the flesh, many tensions of worry that might have broken the communication channel for a perilous time, many arguments of virtual unbelief, and in so doing, give us a good grounding in the concepts of vigour and rigour, not doubting the power of God to provide, or to lead, or of His word to caution us, but going forward, either OUT of some church which has become as treacherous a Herod (cf. Separation 1997), or INTO some other body which is faithful to His word, or OUT of some educational establishment which attacks the faith as if it were a professional necessity, or INTO one which upholds it and teaches with strength.
As in athletics, when one is listless with poor training, little track work can seem a burden; but when one is prepared and disciplined, then great tasks may seem but normal, and the endurance required but natural. It is not so much a matter of soldiering on, but soldiering by faith in the first place, and learning by experience and outcomes, the hand of the Lord and its sufficiency (cf. II Timothy 2:3-5). Indeed, let us look at this in Timothy:
"You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. "
"No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life,
that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.
And also if anyone competes in athletics,
he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.
"The hard-working farmer must be first to partake of the crops.
Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things."
So is there good reason to be careful in communion with the Lord, chaste in enterprise, ready to resolve problems by faith in His power, promises and wisdom (as in Ephesians 1 and James 1), and add to longsuffering, joy, that the bloom of His beauty may transform duty into dynamic, and that into rest, even as one works and labours for the Lord!