The biblical account of what happened after Jesus’ birth – especially the stories of the wise men and of the holy family fleeing to Egypt – is about how Jesus was saved by those who had searched for him, cared about him, who heard from God about Jesus’ endangerment and then obeyed the warnings that they heard.
In the case of the wise men, they were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod. To obey that warning was risky, because it meant disobeying someone very powerful. But if they hadn’t disobeyed Herod, Jesus may well have been killed. Their obedience to God, then resulted in our salvation…which is an amazing thing to think about: that the obedience of one generation – or even one person – can produce ripple effects which change things from that time forward.
Joseph hears from an angel and is warned about Herod’s plan to kill the baby Jesus. The biblical text conveys urgency. His response (it reads) is immediate. The angel spoke, and he gets up, got Mary and Jesus together and took off for Egypt.
Like all scripture, this story speaks inexhaustibly. But I’d like to focus on how the story indicates there are times when God gives warnings and we are called to act – for the purpose of saving Jesus.
I find myself sometimes frightened for the mission and ministry of Jesus when I see perversions of his message. Those who claim to speak for Jesus, but whose words and actions do not reflect his teachings. Followers who claim their leader is speaking for Jesus, when she or he is not. I think of those leaders and pastors who do special harm to the cause of Christ by their very public scandals of infidelity or dishonesty. It’s embarrassing, and it’s harmful. Some people who use these failures as their reason for not being part of organized religion, but I think some are looking for an excuse. Even if that’s the case, these things do harm. I find myself wanting to speak up and say, “wait a minute! That’s not Jesus. That’s not the Lord’s fault. Don’t lump us all together or blame Jesus for the failures of those who claim to be his followers.”
I think that we have an obligation to speak up like that. I know it’s respectful to let people have their own opinions and yes, people may not come to one church because they heard of something that happened in another church, but I don’t want to let such folk do damage to Jesus and his cause by linking him to those failures and perversions. Someone saying, “I’m not going to have anything to do with Christianity because of what happened at this one church or because of what was done by this one Christian” is like saying, “I heard of this one politician who was crooked or dishonest, so I’m not going to have anything to do with the United States of America!”
Jesus and his message are, in a very real way saved by those who, like Joseph hear what God is saying and act. Who listen and obey. They save Jesus and the message he came to proclaim by their integrity, and their witness, and their action. And maybe by being willing to speak up and say “hey, blaming Christianity for the ways some people have perverted it is a copout.”
We don’t know if Joseph woke Mary and Jesus up after the angel’s warning, but it does say that he travelled by night… that could be because he didn’t want anyone seeing them leave, or it could be because it was night when he got the message, and he responded immediately. But when the angel gave him a warning, he acted.
“Get up”, the angel said to Joseph, “and save the child.” May we do the same.