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Gospel Reading for the Sunday After Nativity
Today’s gospel reading is a hard one to listen to: When the three wise men came to Israel, looking for the newborn king, Jesus, they met King Herod. He told them to find the baby and then come back and let him know where he was. Well, they figured out that Herod wanted to kill Jesus, so when they left Bethlehem, they didn’t go back to King Herod. Eventually, Herod figured out he’d been tricked. He still didn’t know where Jesus was, so he ordered his soldiers to kill all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem. It was a terrible thing to do.
Before this happened, though, an angel came to Joseph in a dream and warned him what Herod was planning and told him to take the baby Jesus and His mother, Mary, to Egypt. So, what did Joseph do? He didn’t even wait until morning. That night, he packed up the donkey and they started out for Egypt.
A couple of years later, King Herod died, and angels told Joseph to bring Jesus and His mother back to Israel, to a town called Nazareth, where they would be safe.
Today, we celebrate Joseph for listening to God’s instructions and keeping Jesus and His mother safe. That was his job. Our job is to keep Jesus safe in our heart. So, what can we learn from what Joseph did?
Well, sometimes, the right thing to do is to run away to protect your heart. When we’re tempted to do something wrong, we may not be strong enough to fight the temptation and we just need to leave. Maybe your friends are saying mean things about someone else and you start saying mean things too. If you walk away, you’ll stop yourself from saying mean things. Maybe you really want a cookie before dinner, but mom said no. If you just can’t resist that cookie, and it’s calling your name, it’s time to leave the kitchen and go in another room. If you have scary thoughts in the night, or bad memories, you don’t have to keep thinking about them. You can think about happy thoughts and good memories, and then talk to someone in the daylight about the bad things—just like Joseph took Mary and Jesus away until the danger was over, and then brought them back home when it was safe.
Another thing we can learn from the Joseph is that, if we listen to God and his messengers, He will help us. When the angel told Joseph to be Mary’s protector, he said okay. When the angel told Joseph they were in danger, He didn’t even wait until morning to leave. God sends His angels—His messengers—to us all the time to help us keep our hearts safe. If we’re doing what He tells us to do, like praying and coming to church, and helping other people, and loving other people, we’ll hear His messengers when He sends them to us.
Let’s all be like the Righteous Joseph, and keep Jesus safe in our hearts.
This pericope is a hard one to write a children’s sermon about. For one thing, it’s just a horrible scene—the slaughter of innocent children. For another, most of the patristic commentary interprets the application of this passage in highly allegorical ways, while most contemporary treatments focus on the literal parallels to the horrors of abortion.
In the end, I went down the road of allegory—using the Righteous Joseph’s role as protector of the infant Jesus as an embodiment of the Christian’s role as protector of the likeness of Christ in each one of us. I’m not sure the younger ones will get the connection, but I hope they will get something out of it.
As often happens, events in my own life help shape the direction of these children’s homilies. Two nights ago, as I was sitting in my kids’ room, waiting for them to fall asleep, my daughter had a scary thought (sort of a just-on-the-cusp-of-sleep dream), and then my son had a bad memory that he started obsessing about. I know this is a common problem with kids. They don’t know what to do with the bad stuff in their heads, and they end up ruminating over it. Heck, even adults do that. Instead of turning to God, we turn over negative thoughts in our minds so much we begin to identify with them. Maybe if we learn to flee from such things in the dark and return to fight them in (and with) the light, they will be defeated.
“Next, that Christians when persecution makes it necessary should not be ashamed to fly.” —Pseudo-Chrysostom
“See how immediately on His birth the tyrant is furious against Him, and the mother with her Child is driven into foreign lands. So should you in the beginning of your spiritual career seem to have tribulation, you need not to be discouraged, but bear all things manfully, having this example.” —St. John Chrysostom
“The flight into Egypt signifies that the elect are often by the wickedness of the bad driven from their homes, or sentenced to banishment. Thus He, who, we shall see below, gave the command to His own, ‘When they shall persecute you in one city, flee ye to another,’ first practised what He enjoined, as a man flying before the face of man on earth. He whom but a little before a star had proclaimed to the Magi to be worshipped as from heaven.” —Bede, Hom. in Nat. Innocenthttp://www.ccel.org/ccel/aquinas/catena1.ii.ii.html (Catena Aurea – Gospel of Matthew)
We remember this in the Church because the Church remains realistic – the world is what it is. The world is not paradise or heaven, yet God endeavors to break into the world as it is, to reunite us to Him, to reunite all of creation with our Creator. —Fr. Ted Boboshhttps://frted.wordpress.com/tag/matthew-213-23/
“Guard Your Heart“, Fr. Stephen Freeman, Glory to God for All Things, December 7, 2009
“Guarding the Thoughts, Guarding the Heart“, Hieromonk Calinic (Berger), Holy Cross Orthodox Church website