The gospel lesson is Matthew 1:13-23. Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon on January 1, 2017, the First Sunday of Christmas at Trinity and St. Jacob’s – Spaders Lutheran Churches.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I’ve given this New Year’s Day Sermon a title: On the Road Again! Travel Lite! My thinking is to address what happened with the Holy Family after the first Christmas and to talk about experiences in my life which touch on the need to travel lightly.
I talked about Joseph in my Christmas Eve sermon: a man selected by God to keep Jesus and Mary safe. Thankfully Joseph could be trusted.
After the Wisemen departed, an angel came to Joseph in a dream and said basically, “Jesus is not safe. The evil Herod has given orders to kill all the male babies two years and younger. Take the baby to Egypt and wait there.
So that is what Joseph did. The picture on the front of the bulletin shows what they took with them. Basically only what could fit in a sack and they fled.
How much different it was for Carol and me when we accepted the call to Resurrection in Fredericksburg in the year 2000. A whole moving van load of furniture and other stuff, all our worldly possessions. It was enough to fill just half the rooms. We were moving from an 1100 square foot house into a 4300 square foot house. Don’t feel bad for us, since over these past 17 years we’ve filled up the house with our furniture.
Now we don’t have any information on how the Holy Family lived in Egypt. But I can just imagine their meager circumstances, especially as immigrants in a foreign land. But then another dream came and Joseph was instructed to return to Israel, since Herod had died. So again, that is what Joseph did: hit the road as instructed.
Matthew said he wanted to go home to Bethlehem, but Herod’s son was in charge of that area called Judea, so Joseph took his family to Nazareth in Galilee and settled there, feeling much more safe. God’s plan continued to unfold there in Nazareth, not as Joseph and Mary had expected, but just as God knew it should be.
Have you ever considered the parallels in Jesus’ life to the life of Moses? Matthew, the gospel writer so well-versed in the history of the Jews and of the prophets, shows us the connection between these two. Moses came to the Promised Land (Israel) from Egypt. Jesus was brought from Egypt back to Israel, God’s Promised Land. Moses and Jesus were both born in dangerous circumstances. Pharaoh wanted all boy babies drowned in the Nile. Herod wanted all young boy babies killed. When Moses grew up, God selected him to go up on a mountain and receive the Ten Commandments for the people. Jesus delivered his Sermon on the Mount and gave us a whole set of new commandments to live by. So the not so subtle message of Matthew is this: everything that Moses, the greatest figure in the history of Israel, did, Jesus also did and did so for the whole human race, not just for Israel.
But back to the Kniseleys with our house full of possessions. We retired and decided to downsize and were faced with what to do with our stuff. How many of you know what I’m talking about? Our son already had a house full of his own furniture. None of our nieces and nephews wanted our furniture. We donated lots to Goodwill and the nice antiques were picked up by an auction house and it sold for pennies on the dollar. We did downsize by 70%.
So today if you visit our home, you would be amazed. Our former living room and dining room are now an art studio. We have two bedrooms with zero furniture in it. I used to have an office at church, but it is now in what was another bedroom. And yes, we will soon be putting our house on the market in order to move into a house that is the right size for the two of us in retirement.
Is there any connection between the Holy Family traveling lite and Jim and Carol wanting to travel lite in retirement? Perhaps. The biggest thing is that you should not be controlled by your stuff, your earthly possessions. Unfortunately, too many of us are. When we are called upon to do something special for God’s kingdom, or the church, we can’t easily get up and travel to where God needs us.
Joseph and Mary heeded the angel and traveled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. They packed up again and fled to Egypt, as they were commanded in a dream. And they returned to Israel, as further commanded, and settled in Nazareth.
The reason that I can serve here at Trinity and St. Jacob’s is because of the unsettling pushing that I’ve encountered by the Holy Spirit. I thought I would be in Southern California doing an interim, living near our son and family. We tried it for a few months, but our house didn’t sell and we came back to Virginia. We thought next of moving to Knoxville, TN, to be near Carol’s aging mother. We tried it for a few months, and again the house did not sell, so we came back to Virginia. Carol and I did some praying and soul-searching and found that we both love Virginia and feel good that our family is willing to visit us often here. So we determined to downsize to Lake Anna. You know what? It was just a short time until the Bishop phoned and said two congregations in the Harrisonburg area were in need of an interim pastor. Was I interested? And Carol and I looked at each other and said simultaneously, “It’s a sign!”
God is working a plan, as God always does. It is now obvious what the plan was in the life of the Holy Family. Here at Trinity and St. Jacob’s, you are getting bits and pieces of God’s plan for the future. Carol and I are also getting bits and pieces of our future.
So it can be declared: Our future is in God’s hands, we need to listen and look for the signs, we need to heed our dreams, listen for God, be prepared to respond, and be prepared to travel lite.
May we be so inspired in the year 2107 to do so.