Joseph, Mary, and toddler Jesus had just received a visit from some eastern astrologers hailing him as “king of the Jews”, expressing wonder and worship as they bowed down and brought him gifts. It was a remarkable moment, probably giving everyone pause to ponder what God was doing behind the scenes. But soon after they departed, Joseph had a dream in which an angel warned “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”
Awake and alert, Joseph gets up, readies Mary and the child, and flees to Egypt in the night as Herod’s rage violently descends upon male toddlers of Bethlehem.
It’s a quick story, but poignant. Jesus’ birth narratives are often read with a “Silent Night” sense of peace and otherworldly wonder; so saturated with serene surreality, we can’t help but hope the story remains so forever. But like Joseph’s startling dream, we are given a rude awakening here as a very real and actual danger is inserted into the story.
As discussed in the previous post, the incarnation of Jesus is incendiary. As a toddler, Jesus was no threat, but as an idea, he ignites all manner of reactions in the human heart. The idea of a new king on the block provoked Herod so sharply, he reacted with mass slaughter.
It’s a moment that adjusts our perceptions of what life with Jesus can be like. The Jesus story is truly one of joy and peace, but it often plays out in settings of uncertainty, risk, danger, sorrow.
Though a saving story, his is not a safe story. But it must be this way, for only in distressing settings can Jesus be contrastingly seen as the “Prince of Peace”.
What this new perception does is prevent us from elevating the way of Jesus to some fantastical journey lived for idealism or adventure. It guards us against perceiving Christian spirituality as something lived out on some higher plane, far above the noise of everyday life. Christianity must be lived out in the world as it actually is. As seen in Herod “and all Jerusalem with him”, the way of Jesus is lived out in neighborhoods of apathy, hostility, chaos, uncertainty, suffering, sorrow.
But it is also lived out by neighbors of faith, hope, and love. Again the text presents us with Joseph who embodies faith, hope, and love by throwing himself into his duty as husband and guardian, packing up his family, and getting them to safety, preserving for all humanity the hope who would save the world. It’s not sexy work, but its goodness at work.
As I drove into town this morning, I heard a story on the radio of how local preachers were attempting to calm the rioters in Baltimore by linking arms and marching through streets covered with glass and debris, discouraging violence and calling for peace as they go. I don’t know what became of their efforts, but I’m thankful efforts were made.
Whether in faraway lands or local neighborhoods, wherever injustice, anger, violence, and suffering are present, goodness needs witnesses—men and woman of faith, hope, and love who will step into the uncertainty or danger in order to preserve hope and heal the wounds human horror has waged upon human hearts. Just as toddler Jesus needed Joseph, hope needs good guardians.
As one trying to walk the way of Jesus, you are one of those good guardians, preserving hope today in the hearts afraid of tomorrow.