In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
`And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.'"
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
After the wise men had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child's life are dead." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He will be called a Nazorean."
Saved by Dreams
This is the second Sunday after Christmas and we had three choices for the Gospel reading this week. I chose the two readings from Matthew because they are the ones with the three wise men and the escape to Egypt. This reading contains a wonderful story about wise men following the star to find the birthplace of the new king.
Some people think these men were kings themselves but the truth is we know very little about them. The song, “We Three Kings” tells us there were three of them but Matthew never tells us how many there were. The number three was probably assumed because there were three gifts given. Some think these wise men were astrologers because they were clearly reading the signs in the heavens. They were probably from some distance but even that is speculation.
There is of course much drama in this story. It is a story that has a purpose. Matthew tells this story of the messiah's birth in Bethlehem and his young families flight to Egypt so that there would be a connection between the New Testament and the old writings of the prophets. These wise men meet with Herod while they are on their journey and Herod, sly conniving individual that he is tells them he wants to meet this new king as well so that he too can pay homage to him. The wise men are warned in a dream not to return to Herod. The star leads them to the small village of Bethlehem. Jesus being born in this little town of Bethlehem is a fulfillment of the prophet Micah. In Micah ch. 5 he writes:"But you O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me the one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Of course the wise men do not return to Herod because they are wise men. Our story tells us that one of them (maybe all of them) has a dream warning them not to return to Herod with their information.
Joseph has a dream as well and his dream says go to Egypt. There is some record that there were enclaves of Jews living in Egypt and it is believed that is where Joseph took his small family. Once again it is believed that Mathew is making another connection with the story of the Jews being exiled in Egypt.
It is a great story full of symbolism. After all this is the story of Jesus. As you remember from last week Jesus was first visited by shepherds. It is so fitting that these shepherds be one of his first visitors. Maybe this was a foretelling that this infant would be a shepherd as well. However, he would be a shepherd of men. The wise man have symbolism as well. Jesus was to share with his sheep, you and me, the wisdom of the Word of God. This Christmas story is a wonderful prelude to the story that would be told of Jesus's mission on earth.
During the time of the first century people paid close attention to their dreams. Joseph had two dreams. One to say they were in danger and another to say the coast is clear. He paid attention. In Matthew the author is appealing to the Jewish community and making connections with the prophets of old and the coming of the messiah Jesus.
So what do we take away from all of this? For me it says that Jesus was watched over from the very moment of conception to the bitter end. God's love for Jesus was there for His Son every step along his journey. The Father and the Son showed there love for us by his sacrifice on the cross.