“Rise, take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you.” We are told that an Angel of the Lord proclaimed these words to Joseph the betrothed, sometime after the birth of the Lord Jesus. These words should be shocking to us because no one could ever possibly imagine that Egypt would be a safe place, a refuge for any Israelites. When the people were in bondage, was it not in Egypt? When God decided to give the people a new home, did He not choose the land of Israel as a safe place for them? God gave Israel an identity and a home. But the people of Israel did not return this hospitality to His Son, the One born King of Israel.
From the moment of His birth the Lord Jesus Christ was an enemy #1. It did not happen suddenly when He was 33 years old. It was happening from the very moment of His birth. If we read the prophets of the Old Testament, we find that it was always happening. In the prophetic books of the Bible we see that the Israelites, the people of God, are continually finding ways to remove God from their lives. They turn their backs to Him and quickly run after other gods. We should not be surprised to find that the people of Israel continue to do what they have always done, that is, reject God. They were a people rebellious to God. They remained a people who were rebellious to God.
This rebelliousness is the natural by-product of sin. The life of sin separates us from God and it hardens us to the point that we can even become hostile toward God. The people of Israel did not wake up one day and choose to be bad people. They fell into habits that were ungodly and these habits became temperaments and attitudes. These attitudes and practices were passed on to their children and their children’s children for generations. This is how we get from a righteous, God-fearing king, like King David, to the point where we allow a rotten man like Herod to become king. (Please note that Herod was not of Jewish heritage from birth, rather he was a foreigner of Arab birth).
When one starts down the road of sin, he finds that he must have his own way, no matter the cost. He or she gets an idea in their head and they have to chase it and pursue it and they will remove all obstacles that are in their way. Herod is a sinful man who loves the idea of being king. He loves power and he is ready to do any and everything possible to keep it. For Herod, it meant hunting down each and every male child under the age of 2 in the whole region of Bethlehem. Sin, manifesting itself as ambition, distorts the mind and the heart to the point that we can begin to think and to do what is unimaginably evil. We can even rationalize those activities and find ways to call them good or useful. It happens every day. I would love to give you some examples but we are a church full of young angels and we have to raise them up to heaven instead of bringing them down to the lowest pits.
The king is the highest ranking earthly ruler in the world. Yet even a king needs a savior. Athletes, doctors, lawyers, teachers, senators, presidents….they all need a savior. Bishops and priests also need a savior. Even the very people of Israel needed a savior. God in His righteous mercy sent them a savior and He sends each of us a savior. The one who is born King of Israel, is also born in each of our hearts. But each one of us has to choose if our heart is like Egypt or like Israel. Is our heart a safe place for the Son of God? From the moment that the young Lord Jesus entered into the world, He was under attack. He is still under attack daily. In our own hearts, faith in Jesus is under attack from the moment that we are baptized or Chrismated as Christians, as people of God. Faith in Christ is being attacked even before we make a firm commitment to Christ as the Lord Himself mentions in the parable of the sower.
Do you know what a saint is? A saint is someone who allows his heart to become a safe place for Jesus Christ. A place where Jesus is free to grow in stature. A place where Jesus is free to teach us openly and without restraint. A place where Our Lord can mature fully and flourish. A place Jesus can call home. When we struggle for this as our sole purpose in life we find that it is not Christ who finds a refuge in our hearts. It is we who find refuge in Him!
How do we give Christ a place to grow in our hearts? We treat the Lord as if He is precious. We sanctify time, space and our senses. We don’t just think of our bodies as temples. We think of our minds, our homes and our schedules as temples dedicated to the Lord. It means that our whole lives become temples dedicated to God. The New Year is upon us and I have no doubt that we all have resolutions to make. I think that if we choose to make a decision to make Jesus Christ precious in our lives, we will be on the right track. But the goal is not enough. The process is just as important.
In the 1960’s the United States had a goal of being the first to fly a man to the moon. It is an amazing goal, but without a thoroughly planned process, it is just a shiny goal with no real value. On the subject of “church” or “religion”, we like to think that everyone is doing what is best for them. As much as we like to think that everyone is doing the right thing and choosing the right way, it’s simply not true. Some people are not going through the process that allows Christ room to grow in their hearts and lives. The Soviets were also trying to fly a man to the moon but they didn’t know the proper steps. They had an idea, but that idea was faulty. As difficult as flying to the moon is, creating a place for Christ to grow in our hearts is much more difficult. The Lord says 7:13-14 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
The Orthodox way is the narrow way. The way of pure worship, the way of prayer, the way of fasting, the way of confession, the way of Eucharist, the way of the saints. You don’t come here to choose a nice church. You come here to choose a way of life for yourself and your children. By choosing to enter through this narrow way, you show God your commitment to making Him precious. The life of an Orthodox Christian is not simply going through the motions on Sunday morning. It is the energized and joyful act of sanctifying your time, your space and your senses. Orthodoxy is the act of joyfully offering our lives to the worship of the living God. This is how we make God precious in our lives. This is how we protect and guard the Lord Jesus. May God renew our hearts and allow us to become a strong fortress for His Son. And Glory be to God forever AMEN.