We all know the Story; we’ve heard it over and over again. If you close your eyes, you can almost picture them, Joseph and Mary, Great with Child, on a donkey.

Wow, while that may be an accurate description, I’m not sure that any woman ever would appreciate being described that way. Ranks right up there with, “She was as big as a house.”

However, you might describe Mary’s physical state. The reality was that Mary was 9 months pregnant and probably riding on a donkey if she was lucky.

Let’s pull up one of our friendly maps, here is Nazareth,  it is just 24 km southwest of the Sea of Galilee, and here is Bethlehem, which was 120 km away over rugged terrain.

A trip that probably would have taken them the best part of a week and in the very best of situations, they would have ridden donkeys. Donkeys! You ever ride on a donkey? You ever ridden on a donkey 9 months pregnant?

You would have to wonder what would ever possess a man to take his very pregnant wife on that type of journey. Madness, or perhaps there was another explanation or two.

Within the scriptures, we discovered the answers. The first part of the answer lies in the Old Testament. It was prophesied by the Prophet Micah.

You will remember that King David was considered the greatest king that Israel ever had, and he was born in Bethlehem and throughout the Old Testament, it was declared that the coming Messiah would be a descendent of David.

The prophet Micah wrote these words hundreds of years before the birth of Christ: Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.

But the second part of the answer is not found hundreds of years before Christ’s birth, but at the very time of Christ’s birth. Luke 2:1-4 At that time, the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home.

Not sure that Mary and Joseph would have seen it as a fortuitous situation, but it certainly meant that they were where they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there.

The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem is a very familiar part of the Christmas story and it has all the earmarks of a great story. You hear it this time of year in sermons, songs and read about it on Christmas cards.

We all know the Story; we’ve heard it over and over again. But there is another story, something nobody saw coming, that is part of the Christmas Narrative as well.

And Angela read it for us earlier.

You see, when we think of the journey of Christmas we think of the part of the trip before Jesus was born, but there was another trip, a trip that nobody saw coming.

Let’s go back to the story.

You will recall how on their way to Bethlehem, the Wise Men stopped in Jerusalem where they paid their respects to King Herod. Who wasn’t really a King but was kind of a puppet governor whom the Romans let rule over a small portion of Palestine?

But it was his portion of Palestine, and he was insanely suspicious, with the emphasis on the insane part of that statement.

Suspicious of those he thought were a threat to his rule.

History tells us that he had murdered his wife, mother-in-law and three sons because he thought they were trying to oust him, and maybe they were, but still, that’s kind of harsh

When Herod heard that there was a child born who was the King of the Jews, he was furious and began planning bad things for the baby Jesus. The Angel Gabriel shows up again, warns the Wise Men to skip the Jerusalem part of their trip on the way home and that’s where we pick up our story.

Matthew 2:13-15 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

And that is really all we know. The Holy family fled to Egypt, stayed for an indeterminable period of time and then returned to Palestine.

I’m not a woman so I’m not sure which would be worse, making the journey to Bethlehem while 9 months pregnant or making the journey to Egypt shortly after having given birth, but it is what it is.

The bible doesn’t elaborate on where Joseph and the holy family lived or what they did while in Egypt. But if you travel to Egypt today, traditions of the Coptic Church will direct you to any number of spots that they claim were notable in Jesus’ childhood.

A little aside here, for many of us, the church is clearly divided into two sections: Catholic and Protestant. And yet around the world, there are parts of our family that have a long history. The Coptic Church, or Egyptian Orthodox Church, is said to have been started in AD 42, by Saint Mark, that’s only ten years after the death and resurrection of Christ.

While we aren’t given a time in history that Mary and Joseph returned to Palestine, the bible tells us they stayed there until Herod’s death, which history tells us happened in 4 BC. So, while we don’t have a definitive birth date for the birth of Christ, the assumption of many scholars is that it happened between 6 and 4 BC.

Back to the story.

We kind of see Egypt as a strange place for Joseph to take his family, but that is because we see it from our time and perspective.

Two thousand years ago Egypt was a Roman province where Greek was spoken, it wasn’t that far away from Bethlehem, if we pull down our map again, here is Egypt, the border is less than 100 Kms, but still outside the reach of Herod and there was a certain familiarity about it.

Not to mention the symbolism wrapped up in Jesus making the same trip the people of Israel had made when Joseph’s family had fled there to escape a famine in Canaan 1700 years before.

Recently someone commented that the people of God were saved when they fled from Egypt, and the son of God was saved when he fled to Egypt. Interesting.                                         

And while we don’t know a lot of the details concerning their stay in Egypt, there is a great story that is told in tradition.

When Joseph and Mary were on their way to Egypt, they were waylaid by a group of highwaymen. One of the outlaws wanted to murder them and steal their belongings.

But another of the group stepped in and protected the family. Tradition tells us that he looked at the Christ child and said, “O most blessed of children, if ever there comes a time for having mercy on me, then remember me, and forget not this hour”.

So, the legend says that the next time Jesus, and the thief met was at Calvary where Dismas hung on the cross next to Jesus and there he found forgiveness and grace. Great story, isn’t it? Is it true? I have no idea, but it is a great story.          

In the Coptic church, there are a few non-canonical texts called “the Infancy Gospels”. These texts have never been accepted as the word of God, but in one called The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. 

 In that book we read this account, “And it came to pass, when the most blessed Mary went into the temple with the little child, that all the idols prostrated themselves on the ground, so that all of them were lying on their faces shattered and broken to pieces; and thus they plainly showed that they were nothing.”

That account happened in a place called Tell Basta, and if you were to visit today this is what you would see.  

And our Coptic brothers and sisters would say this was all a fulfilment of Isaiah 19:1 This message came to me concerning Egypt: Look! The LORD is advancing against Egypt, riding on a swift cloud. The idols of Egypt tremble. The hearts of the Egyptians melt with fear.

But traditions and legend aside, what can we learn from this brief interlude in this young families’ Life, from the biblical account?

We Discover It Was a Story of Trust Mary and Joseph must have been overwhelmed with all that was going on. They get to the end of this gruelling journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, only to discover that for whatever reason, the village inn had no room for them.

If I was planning the birth of the Son of God, I think I would have taken care of that detail.
The angel Gabriel is all over this story and he either forgets to find them a place to stay or books them into a stable where their first child is born.

Do you remember the birth of your first child? You can’t really believe it’s happened, even though you had nine months to prepare. You have to count all the little fingers and toes and then you count them again, hardly able to comprehend how tiny and perfect they are. Almost like baby toes and fingers.

Then there are endless discussions of who the baby looks like until finally, you settle on Uncle Moe. You know, the uncle with no hair and no teeth.

And then a flock of shepherds shows up. Do shepherds come in flocks? Babbling about angels and wanting to see the baby. And then it was the Magi with their gifts and talk about how they had travelled hundreds of miles across the desert in search of this child who would become a king. A little overwhelming for a Nazarene carpenter and his young bride.

And just when Joe thinks that maybe things have settled down and he can finally get some sleep, his dreams are interrupted by an angel, again.

Matthew 2:13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” Joseph must have been thinking “Every time an angel shows up, I get some strange story and request.”

First, it was when he was still reeling from the bombshell that Mary had dropped, that she was going to have a baby and that the father was the Holy Spirit. He was all ready to break off the engagement when an Angel showed up, letting Joseph know that everything Mary said was true and commanded him to marry her and call the child Jesus. And he did.

Now this, he was to believe that King Herod knew that Jesus had been born.
I’m sure he was thinking, “Like what’s with that? I’m just a carpenter and he’s a king. How’d he find out? We haven’t even put the announcement in the newspaper yet and Mary hasn’t posted it on Facebook.” And even if Herod knew, why should a grumpy old man care enough about their child to want to kill him?”

It’s surprising how often God reveals extraordinary plans to ordinary people. “Noah, I want you to build me an ark.”

“Sarah and Abraham, you are going to have a baby in your old age.” “David, I want you to take on the giant Goliath with just five stones and sling shot”, and on and on it goes.

Mary, you are going to have a baby, even though you are still a virgin. Joseph, Mary, is going to have a baby even though she’s still a virgin.

And now this. It’s not for the ordinary that we have to trust, those are just things we do. And that’s probably why we have verses in the scriptures like Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.

 And why the prophet tells us in Isaiah 12:2 See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him and not be afraid.

And why Jesus assured his apostles and us: John 14:1 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.

And so there will be times that we don’t understand, and those are the times we have to trust that God knows what he’s doing.

I love the response of Joseph throughout the Christmas story. He finds out Mary is pregnant and decides to call off the wedding. That night he is visited by an angel who tells him that it’s going to be all right and that he needs to marry his fiancé. His response is found in Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.

After Jesus is born, an angel visits and tells Joseph that Jesus’ life is in danger and they need to leave the country. We read about his response in Matthew 2:14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother,

He finds out Mary is pregnant and decides to call off the wedding. One would think that they should be on first name basis by now, and he is commanded to return to Israel. His response? Matthew 2:21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother.

I like the New Living Translation of the Bible. It’s what we use on Sunday at Cornerstone, but sometimes the other translations say it better. For example, in the NIV we read Matthew 2:13 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.”

Do you see the commands? “Get up”, “Take the Child”, “Escape to Egypt” “Stay there until I tell you”

Now let’s read the next verse in the NIV Matthew 2:14-15 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.

So more than anything we discover It Was a Story of Obedience

Is trust, trust if we don’t act on it? Do you trust that the ice is thick enough to walk on? Will you walk on it? I love the story of the man falling over the bank. As he’s falling to certain death, he manages to grab hold of a branch and, as he dangles, he yells, “Help, help!” From above he hears a voice call out, “this is God, I’m here to help you.” “Thank you,” He hollers back. The voice responds, “You need to trust me. Do you trust me?”

“Yes, he responds, I trust you” “Then let go of the branch!” There’s a pause, and the man calls out again, “Is there anyone else up there?”

We talk about trusting God, but until we act upon that trust, then trust is just a word.

We see how the bible is full of examples of trust, even when it didn’t seem to make sense, but the reason they are there is because the trust was acted on.

There are probably other instances where God called upon people and they said they trusted him, but when He asked them to do whatever it was to demonstrate that trust, they hedged.

And that’s why we don’t read about Harold in the lion’s den, or Bob killing the giant, or Fred building an ark.

Jesus offers us grace and forgiveness and in return, he asks for our love and obedience. And sometimes we bristle at the thought of having to obey, but the commands of Christ aren’t set there to ruin our fun, they are set there for a purpose.

Do you remember in the book of Matthew, one of the religious leaders asked Jesus what the most important commandment was? In reply, Jesus reached back into the Old Testament and answers Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”
Love God and love others. And when you get right down to it, that is the sum of Jesus’ teachings.

Love God and love people. And so when he tells us not to murder or steal or commit adultery, he is simply telling us to treat other people right. Was the command to not cheat on our spouse put there to ruin our fun or to protect our families? When we are commanded to not take the Lord’s name in vain, not to have other gods and to take time out to worship him, they are part of the Love the Lord your God.

And It Was A Story Of Faith Joseph had no guarantees. God didn’t hand him the plan written down so he could show Mary or that he could take out once in a while to look at to reassure himself.

The directions were a little vague. “Go to Egypt” there was no address, no contact person for when he got there, no promise of a job. In the book of Hebrews, faith is defined this way, Hebrews 11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

That could have been written about Joseph, time and time again. He had an assurance about things he could not see.

And the story continues, Matthew 2:19-20 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. “Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”

Ten days ago, I stood in the Virgin Mary Convent and Monastery in Dronka. Tradition tells us that this was the last place in Egypt that the Holy Family lived, and that it was here the angel visited Joseph.  I was actually in Dronka 10 days, ago, may very well have stood where Joseph was when the Angel came to visit.

Back to the Sermon. Finally, It Was A Story Of Deliverance God’s deliverance may have been the outcome, but God’s deliverance was dependent on Joseph and Mary’s Trust, Obedience and Faith.

Too often, we get into messes in our lives because of choices we make. And often those are the time that we have chosen to not believe God and have chosen not to obey God. If Jonah had had the faith to believe that God knew what he was doing and obeyed him, he would never have ended up in the belly of the whale.

But what does this mean for today, December 19, 2021?

Well, first of all, it reminds us that we need to trust God. We need to trust him with our career, we need to trust his with our family, we need to trust that he loves us and has the very best at heart for us, but being in the centre of God’s will doesn’t mean it will be easy or that there will be no problems. But it does mean that he will be with us through times of trouble and problems.

And it means that we need to obey him, to do as he commands and put our trust into action.

Today you can decide if you are going to trust God. Are you willing to put your life in his hands?

Are you willing to believe what you might not be able to see?

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