Sunday, January 25, 2015

Life as Usual--Despite the Text?

January 25, 2015 

Dear Friends,

Because The Return of the Magi and The Flight into Egypt are such great stories I was tempted to make drama and intrigue the theme of today’s blog, but my sense of the importance of truth triumphed over my enjoyment of theater.

God did make the announcement of the Baby’s birth a big deal—heaven sent star works, angel choruses and careful identification of the Baby Himself—but after this initial announcement, God seemed to major in the ordinary. 

When Mary and Joseph went to the temple for the ordinary purification rites, Anna and Simeon had a somewhat startling message for them, but otherwise things went as would be expected for any ordinary first-born male. 

The family went back to Nazareth, and Joseph went back to work and Mary tended the house and the baby and life went on. There continued to be some gossip of course, mostly from those cousins of Joseph’s over by Cana [Hubbard’s footnote to the story—not in the Text]. 

But then those strange visitors came—camels, can you believe it?—and everything stopped being normal. The visitors brought impressive gifts, then left in a hurry rushing off in a very strange direction if they planned as they said to go home.  Then—in the middle of the night, mind you—sensible Joseph came in and said they were to get up and pack just the necessities because they were leaving for Egypt—Egypt!!!—immediately.

Then, after a long journey, there was a stretch of the uneventful again for Mary and Joseph and the Child. Life in Egypt was ordinary—well, almost ordinary.  Joseph’s cousin had family there in the large Jewish community near Alexandria [Hubbard addition—not in the Text] so they had help getting settled.

Behind them, there was a dreadful kind of ordinary in Bethlehem.  Insane with rage when he learned that the Magi had tricked him, Herod ordered all male babies two years of age or younger to be killed. Herod did not change—the alleged arrival of the Messiah simply triggered more cruelty and sacrifice of innocent life. Having been warned, Joseph kept the family in Egypt until Herod died, then returned to Nazareth. 

Certainly there are remarkable elements of drama in the story—and, as you saw, I could not resist the temptation to add a possible story-teller detail from place to place—but, overall, the bottom line is remarkable for the ordinary way in which the story unfolds: God comes to be with human-kind, and announces His arrival clearly so that it was difficult to make a mistake about the matter.

God reinforced His original message that Messiah had come—there was Anna and Simeon at the temple and those odd visitors from the East—but life remained remarkably unchanged. The Jewish people remained subjects of Rome, Herod remained insanely murderous, and the human family into which God had chosen to come remained poor, fugitives from a tyrannical pagan government, and life went on.

This week I studied a number of old maps, wondering about the direction the Magi chose to travel home. I traced the coastal road that Joseph and Mary likely took to Egypt, and I read about the large Jewish community that resided there. But then as I put my books away, it occurred to me that perhaps I had missed an important point.

Don’t you think it was remarkable that God came to be with people then (and announced His arrival rather clearly) and people continued doing life as though nothing unusual had occurred? 

Then I thought—do people behave in the same fashion now? Is it possible that God comes to us now, in this world, and we respond in much the same manner—life as usual, no matter what the Text may say?

Thinking with you that this week I mean to keep a sharp eye out—God has come to be present in this world just like it is. I don’t want to miss Him.

See you next week.


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