Text: Matthew 2:13-23
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Jan. 3, 2016
When I was a junior in seminary, one of my professors told a story that he said happened when he was pastoring a church early in his ministry. On the second Sunday after Christmas one of his Sunday School teachers came to him and handed him a piece of paper. It was obviously the work of one of her students for on the page was a drawn in a child’s hand an airplane with three adults and a baby inside.
“Can you guess what this is?” she asked, “An airplane with four people inside,” he replied with a puzzled look on his face for it seemed all too obvious. “Yes,” she replied impatiently, “but do you know what it means?”
“Let me tell you,” she continued. “This morning I told the children today’s gospel story of Joseph taking Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt. Afterwards I asked the children to draw a picture of what they had heard. This was Johnny’s picture. When I looked at it I couldn’t understand why he had drawn an airplane. When I asked him, he said, ‘This is Joseph and Mary’s flight into Egypt.’” She continued, “yes I see, but you have four people in the plane. I see Joseph & Mary and the baby Jesus, but who is the fourth person?” “Oh,” said Johnny, “That’s Pontius the Pilot.”
I couldn’t resist telling you that story this morning, but when we come to reflect God would say to us from this gospel lesson, an old expression that was often stated in my home while I was growing up comes to my mind. “She jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.” I remember my parents using the expression to refer to a cousin of mine. As a teen-ager she had trouble communicating with her parents. She got pregnant and eloped with her boyfriend. She couldn’t communicate with him either and she soon found herself in far worse circumstances and her options were far more limited.
All of us have had occasions in which we felt trapped by our circumstances – some of our own making, others that have been dealt to us. Can you think of such a situation in your life? Did it seem that no matter what you did, the situation only got worse? Did you wonder, Is there no escape? Is there no way out? Yes, there is! That is the good news. We can find it. Regardless of our circumstances, we can be free!
In our gospel this morning our Lord is faced with a difficult situation. He is God’s son, but he is born as a helpless baby and is born into great danger. Herod, the King, seeks to kill hm. Jesus clearly finds himself in the frying pan. Joseph, our Lord’s earthly father, is warned through a dream. God tells Joseph to escape, to jump out of the frying pan by fleeing to Egypt.
Egypt is a land that had much significance for the nation of Israel at the time that Jesus was born. We remember this well from our days in Sunday School. God’s people, the Jews, had gone to live in Egypt because there was famine in their own country. In Egypt their lives were spared, but it was also in Egypt that they became slaves. In the land of Canaan, they had been in the frying pan. In moving to Egypt, what appeared to be a way out, was in reality, jumping into the fire.
Now with the birth of our Lord, history seems to be repeating itself. Jesus is faced with danger. Joseph seeks to protect his family by escaping to Egypt. But what is more, Joseph is told in a dream by God to escape the frying pan by jumping into the fire.
Why? What was God up to? The answer, though quite simple, is also profound. Jesus is reliving the history of God’s people in order that He might free them from the negative aspects of that history. Like Moses, Jesus was spared as a baby when the king in charge sought to take his life. Like the Children of Israel, when he was in danger, our Lord left the land of promise to go to Egypt. Just as the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years, our Lord fasted in the wilderness for forty days. Just as they faced overwhelming obstacles when they sought to conquer the land of promise, our Lord was faced with great temptations, as he sought to minister in the land of promise.
But there was a major difference. When the Children of Israel were faced with problems they panicked and fled. They looked at their outward circumstances and trembled at what they saw. They were not able to believe the promises of God. They could not believe that He would go before them. They could not believe that He would prepare the way. They could not believe that they could fight their battles in His strength rather than their own. Time and again, faced with the heat of the frying pan, they jumped into the fire.
It was only when they were in the fire that they came to understand that nothing they could do in their own strength would save them. It was only then that in desperation they came to realize that as they placed their faith in the promises of God they could face and overcome their circumstances. It was then that they could live a life of victory.
Our Lord in reliving the history of His people met the test at every point. Each time he was faced with the heat of the frying pan, He refused to jump into the fire. He was able to demonstrate both in his life and ministry that the way out of a difficult situation was to meet it squarely in the face.
By reliving the history of Israel, our Lord provides us with a model for our Christian journey. In the Christian tradition, the experience of Israel has become a type of our life in Christ. Just as the Children of Israel from themselves to be slaves in Egypt, we have found ourselves enslaved by sin. Just as God delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians, God, through Christ has delivered us from the power of sin. Just as God called his people to the Land of Promise and committed Himself to go before them, God calls us to a life of fullness and joy. However, just as the Israelites discovered giants in the land of promise, a daunting outward circumstance that would prevent them from possessing their inheritance, so to, as Christians, we often face outward circumstances that would rob us of the sense of fulfillment we seek.
Faced with difficult circumstances, we can, like the children of Israel, seek to escape the heat by jumping out of the frying pan. But if we do we will undoubted land in the fire, and wander in the wilderness. We will find ourselves living far below the sense of victory that we called upon to experience in our life of faith.
We don’t have to live in the wilderness. We don’t have to allow our outward circumstances control our lives. With Christ as our example, we can follow in His steps. He has gone before us. He has prepared the way. We can walk in His strength. His lamp is a light unto our path.
This morning I don’t care with what external circumstances you are facing. I only know that if you dare to face them honestly, trusting in our Lord to be your strength, you will find that fire does not consume. It will burn away the dross and leave you refined like pure gold.
Facing the heat of the frying pan can trigger old memories of panic, of despair or of past repeated failures. But in Christ, the heat of the frying pan can become a resource that transforms. As the heat gets your attention, it can alert you to an awareness that this is a time to hold steady. It is a time to keep your eyes on Jesus. If you do, you will come through a better, not a bitter, person.
We have just crossed the threshold of a new year, a time that calls for making resolutions. This year, both as individuals and as a community of faith, should we encounter outward circumstances that make us feel the heat of the frying pan, let us resolve to trust our Lord, to walk confidently in His power and at the end of the year look back to see what He has accomplished in our lives. Amen.