For many folks, the winter holidays are the peak of excitement for the year. As soon as fall rolls around, it is Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Once it is all over, the tree and decorations all come down and some people start to feel a little sad or depressed.
We call that the post-holidays letdown. We go from all the excitement to the reality of the cold, dark, long days of winter. Family goes back home and ‘a quiet’ sets in. Some of us appreciate that yet others dread it.
In this Baby Blues cartoon, the parents, Darryl and Wanda are sitting on the couch. Darryl says, “I always feel sort of blue after Christmas is over.”
“He continues, “You know…when the presents have been unwrapped, the Christmas dinner dishes have been done, and the kids are in bed.” “I think it’s called post-holiday letdown.”
Wanda replies, “I just call it ‘Relief’”.
We all know that life is filled with mountains and valleys, highs and lows. If we lived with the excitement all the time, it would probably kill us. In truth, we do more of our living in the between times, in the valleys, than on the hill-tops. That is where reality lives.
Christian Singer Amy Grant writes in her book ‘Mosaic: Pieces of my Life so far’, that she suffers from depression. Known for her wonderful Christmas CDs, she confesses, “I sing joyful, Christmas songs to keep my spirits up in the darkest part of the year, after the holidays. That is how I cope.”
Amy’s inner struggle has revealed a wonderful gift that keeps others up and pressing on during the long, cold winter months. Sometimes we forget that our ability to succeed and overcome in difficult times, is almost more of an inspiration than our times of triumph in easy times.
My guess is that most of us would classify Christmas as a great time. I am sure Mary and Joseph did too. Despite the hardship and travel, Mary gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.
Since they were most likely staying with Joseph’s family, they had help and most anything they needed for the child. They were safe and could finally rest. And truthfully, after having a child, Mary was not ready to hit the road and head back to Nazareth.
They remained there for about a year and a half to 2 years, and that is when the 3 wise men showed up. I imagine Mary and Joseph were overwhelmed with the visit and the gifts. They would have been filled with joy, but it would have left them scratching their heads.
And that is when everything changed. In a dream, Joseph saw an angel who said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
Joseph woke up abruptly and went to Mary. He explained the dream to her and asked for her trust. Mary must have been thinking, “O come on God, not the road again. We just got settled in.”
Yet whatever reservations she had, she put them aside and they quickly packed to leave. How do you explain that to your extended family? There wasn’t much time, because, scripture says, they left that very night for Egypt.
The gifts the Magi gave them would sustain them for the 350 mile-trek ahead. We don’t usually think of the Holy Family as political refugees, but that is exactly what they were. They were quite literally, running for their lives.
The flight to Egypt was not an unusual occurrence for a Jewish family. Throughout the history of Israel, in numerous times of persecution, Jewish people had often sought refuge in Egypt. So, in every city in Egypt there was and is a colony of Jews.
Therefore, Joseph and Mary had no problem finding accommodations among their own people for the brief period in which they lived in Egypt.
We know very little about their journey to Egypt. There are more folk stories and myths than actual accounts. A few historical documents of the time make references to the Holy family but beyond that the details are rather vague.
We know more from scripture about what happened when they left. Herod had a history of becoming suspicious, angry and vengeful. When he found out that the Magi were not returning to tell him the location of the new born child, he lashed out.
Herod ordered his soldiers to go to Bethlehem and kill all the baby boys 2 and younger. While there is no written record of this incident, that should not be a surprise to anyone.
First, I am sure Herod wouldn’t want this recorded in historical documents. Second, the number of boys killed was 20 or less and many guess as few as 12 to 8. That would not be major news in a small town outside of Jerusalem.
But it does set the age of Jesus to close to 2 when the family escaped to Egypt and they were only there about a year. We also know that Herod died around 4BC, which means Jesus was likely born between 6 and 7BC.
The writer Josephus and others recorded Herod’s exploits. He was called Herod the Great because he oversaw a very large empire and was known as a great builder. He built the magnificent Jewish Temple and was known to be generous; he helped his nation and foreigners out during a terrible famine.
Yet Herod was also feared because he could be cruel and diabolical. He had almost a Jekyll and Hide personality. When he was bad, he was really scary.
We know he was vicious because he executed one of his 10 wives, her mother, as well as several other family members, and 3 of his 14 sons. Augustus once famously remarked; that it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.
The last few years of Herod’s life were marked with a terrible illness, many now believe was caused by chronic kidney disease and a bad case of gangrene. But as his death approached, Herod ordered an elite group of Jewish citizens to be arrested; they were held and executed the day he died.
One writer documented that Herod was so afraid no one would shed tears after his death; he killed some prominent men so that some tears would fall on the day he died. It is documented that he died around the age of 66.
After King Herod’s death, an angel appeared again to Joseph and told him to return with his family to Nazareth. And so, they packed up and headed back home. Because of this, the prophecies were fulfilled; Jesus was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth and called out of Egypt. (Matthew 2:14-20)
God proclaims his love for Israel in the book of Hosea. But the more he loved them, the further away they moved from God. Then God proclaimed in Hosea 11:1, “Out of Egypt I called my son”.
Like Moses, Jesus would be called out of exile and he would return to save the Israelites. But where Moses failed, Jesus would succeed. Moses led his people to freedom, but they still carried many burdens with them. Jesus would set them free from their bondage of sin so they would be able to live lives of abundant joy.
The Pharaoh, like Herod, was also a brutal leader. He also had a two-sided personality. Exodus 1:16 records Pharaoh’s desire, to have all the Hebrew boys slaughtered.
Over and over in scripture, we see the battle between dark and light. Good and evil. It seems to be occurring all the time. And that battle still goes on, it is not much different from any other in history. (Romans 12:21)
In fact, that battle is also going on in each of us. Paul said it well in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, – I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
Like in the Star Wars movies, there ‘seems to be a battle of the light and dark in each of us’; And we do not have the power to overcome the evil without Jesus. We also need the support of other Christians.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Tracy Kidder wrote a beautiful true story called ‘Strength in What Remains” in 2009. In it, he tells the story of Deo Niyizonkiza.
Deo was a 24-year-old medical student living in Burundi Africa in 1994. In the neighboring Rwanda, there was a civil war brewing between the Hutu and the Tutsi people. The conflict spilled over and he had to run for his life.
Deo was able to escape the carnage, with the help of Doctors without borders. And later, with the help of a rich medical student’s assistance.
The young man’s family bought Deo a ticket to the United States. With only $200 to his name and speaking no English, he lived on the streets in New York. He was harassed, hungry and finally worked for $15 dollars a day. It was the love of a nun named Sharon McKenna, who rescued him. She found him a place to live with a Christian couple.
The couple helped him get into college and they paid his way.
He eventually attended Medical school. Every night, he re-lived the horror of his home in Africa. He had watched family members, friends and neighbors die. Just after completing Medical school, he returned to Africa. As afraid as he was to return home, he felt it was his calling to go back and open a free clinic in Burundi.
His life story could have gone either way, good or bad. But God provided the right folks to lead him to safety. He was supported, educated and become a help and a light to his homeland.
Our Gospel passage today, reminds us that both good and bad exist in this world. Jesus also shared that with us in the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30.
The weeds grow along with the wheat and we cannot pluck up the weeds without damaging both. So, Jesus said, “Let both grow together until the harvest. Then Jesus will have the two separated. Much like the way he separates the sheep and goats in Matthew chapter 25.
Despite our troubles, our message is one of hope. Even though we live in a world where there is good and bad, we need to be vigilant to point others to Christ and to His light of love.
John Wesley said, “We are to do all the Good we can.”
We need to be aware of the light and dark in ourselves and always nurture the good in Christ.
Ecclesiastes reminds us, that there is a time for every season under heaven. The best we can do is… keep our focus on Jesus and do the best we can from day to day. God will take care of the rest. (Ecc. 3:12)
There is nothing new under the sun. Yet we only preserver when we keep on eyes on the SON. So, this new year, act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
Share the Gospel and offer another a hand up. And maybe then, we will move closer to overcoming our seasonal let-downs.
You see, we can overcome, because of Jesus, we can move from the land of sorrow to the promise land. Our deliverer has come. Share the Good News.