Meditations on the Reality of Christmas: 18. Pushed Around or Gently Led
Mt 2:13 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.”
There are various question marks over this part of the Christmas story. Joseph’s dream appears to come before Herod takes action. The Lord clearly knows what Herod is going to do. We might be tempted to ask, why didn’t the Lord kill Herod rather than let Herod order the killing of many young children? An answer might be because He might kill off Herod but another member of Herod’s family would just step into his place and do the same thing. It is the quandary we have about a sovereign God who ‘has’ to allow sinful men their say, although there are clearly times when He does step in and bring judgment. It is an unanswered question, I suggest, in this case. The bigger question is why does God not stop all wars, all violence and all oppression? The answer is found in the reality of free will and God’s desire to respect that even when evil follows. Without free will good things cannot be seen as good things.
But a bigger reality that nags at me in this story is how do Mary and Joseph feel about all this? It almost seems like they are pawns being pushed around a chess board. First the emperor issues an edict that requires them to leave their home at a most inconvenient time and now the local ‘king’ is about to embark on an act of genocide that will require them to flee the land. For the couple chosen to host the coming of the Son of God, this seems tough and they might have expected better.
However, as we have already seen, the act of the emperor simply highlights who Jesus is as far as human genealogy and Old Testament prophecy goes, and that was to help those who had eyes to see. Herod is simply the sinful act of a sinful man, no doubt egged on by Satan, to seek to thwart the will of God as He seeks to bring His Son into the world to start the redeeming process that will follow. But yes, if you were so inclined you might want to grumble at being pushed around the world at the whim of powerful people – but then isn’t life so often so like that in this Fallen World?
On the other hand, as they reflect back on all the communications that have come either directly or indirectly from heaven – angel instructions, Spirit conception, family & Holy Spirit encouragements, angelic and shepherd encouragements, Temple and Holy Spirit encouragements, wise men encouragements and now, finally it seems, dream guidance yet again – all of this is amazing leading. Looking back over the story I can see eight times when God has been involved bringing them guidance or encouragement so far.
Now to be fair, when it comes to seeing how this can be applied to us today, we have to acknowledge that angelic guidance tends to be fairly rare. It does seem that God saves angelic usage for major or serious affairs. Nevertheless, I can see at least four instances of the Holy Spirit’s participation (it may be six) in all of this and there we may be on more familiar ground.
I have sought to ask a question of us with each of these studies or reflections so here is this one: recognising that we are living in a Fallen World, do we have more a sense of being pushed around by the circumstances of this Fallen World and the people in it, or do we have a sense of the hand of God overshadowing our lives, guarding and protecting us, and providing for us, and guiding us? Have we learned to have an open ear to the Lord so that He may speak to us either through His word or by His Spirit, bringing guidance and reassurance? These are to the sort of challenges and encouragements that perhaps should come to us as we near the end of these reflections on the realities of the Christmas story.