Holy Family Sunday: Our Own Personal Herods

Holy Family Sunday, Year A

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

Our Own Personal Herods

A friend of mine was very happy where they lived. Then they moved. She spent the next ten years doing everything in her power to get them back to where they had been.  Her family was upended again and again as she tried desperately to go back, certain if they could only return to where they started, life would be as she wanted. When they did finally get back, nothing was as it had been, and she was even more unhappy than she had been on the journey.

I thought of my friend when I read this week’s gospel about the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt and return, not to Judea but to Nazareth in Galilee. Sometimes we have to “flee” what we know, even if we like it, in order to be part of something greater. My friend wasn’t fleeing. Her husband was going to business school. But Joseph was definitely fleeing. Joseph fled because he wanted to protect his family from Herod’s fury. At the time, Joseph probably thought Egypt was just a bump in the road. After we wait out this crisis in Egypt, Joseph probably thought, we can go home, and Jesus can grow up in the community we know.

But that’s not how it worked out. When God called the Holy Family back out of Egypt, they couldn’t go home to Judea because now Herod’s son was in charge and Joseph still feared for his Son’s life.  Probably about this time Joseph realized, nothing is ever going be the same again. That must have been a pretty stark realization, that Jesus would grow up as a Nazarean. We can only guess at how Joseph dealt with his new reality since scripture is nearly silent on these years. My friend sunk into a deep depression and never fully accepted the situation.

We all have similar journeys we take, even if they are only metaphorical. If we want to follow God, we have to leave something behind. Maybe it’s a way of life, a friendship, a family relationship, a home, a job or career, a lifelong desire, or a plan. Or something else. But something has to go. We often start out a journey dipping our toes in. If I don’t like it, it’s not a big deal. I’ll just go back.  We burn no bridges.

But the thing is, with God, there’s no going back, only forward. Even the wisemen, though they did return to their country, are told in a dream to go back “by another way” (v. 12). And their lives were forever changed because they listened. We can look at this change sadly— there’s always some remorse— or we can look at it like a great adventure. But if we don’t follow the star, or listen to the dream (v. 13), the potential of our lives will be “destroyed” (v. 13) by our own personal Herod. Following God is the only way to real happiness, but God’s way never plays out in the way we envision it. After all, Jesus grew up in Nazareth, not Judea.

Given the evidence of Joseph’s faithfulness, and who Jesus grew up to be, it’s a pretty good bet that Joseph acclimated just fine to his new circumstances and made a good life for himself and his family. I’m sure he thought about what might have been on occasion—he was human after all. But he didn’t look back too often. Because Joseph looked to God and went forward into the light. his life had real meaning that will stretch into eternity. I hope to be able to say the same.

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