The Second Sunday After Christmas – Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23 – The Flight to Egypt
We’re three days into the new year, a time of change and transition often marked by the calendar more than the circumstances of our lives or world. Regardless, the 2020 year end reviews are well underway with commentaries, assessments, and judgments. For some, maybe most, “Goodbye 2020,” could just as well be “Good riddance, 2020.” And “Hello, 2021,” could just as well be “You couldn’t get here soon enough, 2021.” We’ve quickly greeted the new year with predictions, wishes, and prayers.
I read it in the news, op eds, and on social media. I hear it in the conversations I have with others and in the silence of my own heart. Will 2021 be different from and better than 2020? I suspect all of us, at some level, are asking and living with that question.
I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe it will be. Maybe it won’t be. But what if the answer to that question is less about the year to come and more about us?
Will we be dreamers in 2021? Or will we be searchers?
What are you dreaming about these days? What are you searching for?
I am asking two very different questions. Dreaming and searching are not the same thing. They’re two different ways of being in the world. And I think they are often two main ways by with we deal with times of change and transition, interruptions, and significant events in our life and world. And in today’s gospel (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23) those two ways are embodied and personified by Joseph and Herod.
Joseph is a dreamer. Herod is a searcher.
“An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife’” (Matthew 1:20). After that an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in three more dreams. In the first the angel says, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt” (Matthew 2:13). In the second the angels says, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel,” (Matthew 2:20). And in the final dream, after warning him, the angel sends Joseph “away to the district of Galilee” (Matthew 2:22).
Herod, the searcher, however, sends the wise men to Bethlehem, on his behalf, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word’” (Matthew 2:8). The angel tells Joseph, “Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Matthew 2:13).
Dreams come to us unbidden, unannounced, unexpected. They bring us something fully new, unfamiliar, unknown. They invite and call us to get up and go where we’ve never gone before and do what we’ve never done before. Dreams initiate us, whereas we initiate searches. Dreams come to us but we go on searches. We only search for that which is already familiar and known – a possession we have lost, the life we used to have, or a goal we have set for ourselves.
Joseph dreams of a life yet to be revealed. Herod is searching to keep the life he already knows. Joseph dreams about what might be. Herod searches for what was.
Joseph is willing to get up and go, leave behind what he has, and change his life. Herod is afraid, grasping for and holding onto his life, unwilling to change. Joseph leaves home. Herod stays home.
Joseph is forward looking and open to the future. Herod is backward looking and closed to the future. Joseph has faith in come-what-may. Herod has a belief in the way things are.
Joseph acts out of concern for others. Herod acts our of concern for himself. Joseph wants to protect and preserve the child’s life. Herod wants to protect and preserve his own life. Joseph puts himself at risk. Herod puts others at risk.
Joseph exposes himself to the risky business of life. Herod is in the business of managing the risks of life.
Joseph is a dreamer. Herod is a searcher.
I know Joseph and I know Herod, and I’ll bet you do too. They’re not just characters in a story, they’re aspects of ourselves. They are ways of being in the world and facing the future. I’ve been a dreamer and I’ve been a searcher, and I’ll bet you have too.
When I’m a dreamer my eyes, ears, heart, and spirit are open and receptive. I find and discover things about the world, others, and myself that I never knew before. All paths are open and life becomes a daring and holy adventure. I feel safe in the uncertainties, led by the unknowing, and drawn by a goal I did not set for myself. Each day offers the possibility of the impossible.
When I’m a searcher, however, my eyes and ears are closed, my heart is hard, and my spirit is resistant. I stand in opposition to the world, others, and even myself. There is only one way, my way. I set goals for myself and agendas for my life, and no one, not even the Child, better get in my way. There’s no room for surprise, spontaneity, or the possibility of more life. I’m more interested in the ways things used to be than how they might be. I feel afraid, abandoned, angry, and at risk.
We’re three days into this new year and I wonder, in what ways are you a dreamer and in what ways are you a searcher?
Dreamers like Joseph are grounded in a reality more real than the illusions of searchers like Herod. It’s the reality of faith, hope, and love. It’s the reality that the future is always better, not because it necessary will be, but because it might be. It’s the reality of Emmanuel, God with us.
Will 2021 be different from and better than 2020? I don’t know but maybe that’s the wrong question to be asking. Maybe we ought to be looking at ourselves instead of the year to come. Will we, in 2021, be different from and better than how we were in 2020? Will we be dreamers or will we be searchers?