Don’t be Troubled by Dangers: an exhortation from John Chrysostom

Titian, Flight into Egypt; Oil on canvas; c. 1508.

While studying for my message at Eastbrook from this past weekend, “Refugee Messiah,” I came across these words by St. John Chrysostom from homily 8.2 on the Gospel of Matthew that were very encouraging in these days.

But why was the Christ child sent into Egypt? The text makes this clear: he was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” From that point onward we see that the hope of salvation would be proclaimed to the whole world. Babylon and Egypt represent the whole world. Even when they were engulfed in ungodliness, God signified that he intended to correct and amend both Babylon and Egypt. God wanted humanity to expect his bounteous gifts the world over. So he called from Babylon the wise men and sent to Egypt the holy family.

Besides what I have said, there is another lesson also to be learned, which tends powerfully toward true self-constraint in us. We are warned from the beginning to look out for temptations and plots. And we see this even when he came in swaddling clothes. Thus you see even at his birth a tyrant raging, a flight ensuing and a departure beyond the border. For it was because of no crime that his family was exiled into the land of Egypt.

Similarly, you yourself need not be troubled if you are suffering countless dangers. Do not expect to be celebrated or crowned promptly for your troubles. Instead you may keep in mind the long-suffering example of the mother of the Child, bearing all things nobly, knowing that such a fugitive life is consistent with the ordering of spiritual things. You are sharing the kind of labor Mary herself shared. So did the magi. They both were willing to retire secretly in the humiliating role of fugitive.

[John Chrysostom, Gospel of Matthew, Homily 8.2 from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 31.]

Christmas Joy

Merry Christmas! This is why we celebrate.

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation; tempera on wood; between 1433 and 1434.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Sadao Watanabe, Nativity; Hand-colored stencil print on crumpled paper.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:1-7)

The Radical Welcome of Joseph

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Holy Family by Night, ca. 1642-1648, oil on panel

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

The openness of Joseph to Mary and her unborn child reveals an admirable generosity and hospitality of life. When the angel spoke to him, Joseph obeyed, receiving the words of this message as if from God. He obeyed in the moment by swiftly taking Mary into his home and life, but also obeyed perseveringly when, after nine months, he received her child as his own, naming him Jesus.

But it is Joseph’s openness of life —his radically welcoming posture—that strikes me so powerfully today. Joseph did not close off his life to others or to God’s purposes. Instead, in the most tangible of ways and most personal of settings, Joseph makes what is his available to God. What could be considered more definitively “ours” than our household—our intimate relationships, possessions, space, and more? Who does not think in some way of their home life as sacred and protected; a refuge and place of peace from the world outside?

Yet it is precisely this sacredness which becomes the furnace of God’s holy love and presence for Jesus through the openness of Joseph. Joseph welcomes Mary into his home. He names Jesus, thus expressing to his relations and the surrounding town that this child is his. He cares for Mary and raises the child, sanctifying the sacred space of household, intimate relationships and family to God. When shared and opened to others through hospitality, these deep places of our life—our space, our daily lives, and our intimacy—can express the radiance of God’s love and presence.

Like Joseph, may we be open to God with all of who we are and what we have. And in that, may we also be radically welcoming to others. May our homes, our relationships, and the sacred spaces of our lives reflect to others the generosity and hospitality of God.

Joseph’s Inward Musing: a word from the ancient church

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly….he…considered this” (Matthew 1:19-20)

When studying for my message on Joseph this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I stumbled upon this excerpt from a sermon by an anonymous church leader in the early church. The way that he speculates on the thinking of Joseph about Mary’s situation was enlightening. This excerpt is taken from an incomplete work on the Matthew, Homily 1.

Perhaps Joseph thought within himself: If I should conceal her sin, I would be acting against God’s law, and if I should publicize it to the sons of Israel, they would stone her. I fear that what is in her womb is of divine intervention. Didn’t Sarah conceive when she was ninety years of age and bring forth a child? If God caused that woman who was like dry wood to flower, what if the Godhead wanted to cause Mary to bear a child without the aid of a man?

Does the conception of a woman depend on a man? If the conception of a woman depends always on a man, doubtless when a man so desires, the woman will conceive. But in this case it is not when the man so desires that the woman conceives but when God so desires. Therefore, if a woman’s conception does not depend on a man but on God, what is so incredible if God should wish to give her offspring without a man?

What shall I do then? I will put her away secretly because it is better in an uncertain matter that a known prostitute should get off free than that an innocent person should die. It is indeed more just that an unjust person should escape justly than that a just person should die unjustly. If a guilty person should escape once, he can die another time. But if an innocent person should die once, he cannot be brought back.

Anonymous, Incomplete Works on Matthew, Homily 1, from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 12-13.