Sunday 33 after Pentecost

Matthew 2:13-23

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christ is Born! The Holy Feast of Christmas is a joyous feast that we still continue to celebrate this week, and we also begin to anticipate the great feast of Christ’s Holy Baptism in the Jordan. We spend many weeks preparing for the Nativity of our Lord, by fasting, by intensified prayer, by confession of our sins, choir practices, buying gifts and preparing food. For us Orthodox Christians, the day of Christ’s birth arrives, and when it does, the rest of life stands still as we immerse ourselves in the feast. But then, like every feast, it comes to an end, and our normal schedule begins again, and we begin to anticipate other fasts and feasts in the Church’s cycle. But, today the Holy Fathers and the Holy Church reminds us that we can keep the light of this holy feast continually burning within our hearts. This is the nature of the feasts of the Church – they come and go in time, but they reside within us spiritually outside of time. For when a person lives sacramentally and ascetically, in harmony with the spirit of Orthodox Tradition, then he is experiencing spiritually the events of the divine incarnation in his heart, and more generally in his whole being.

In today's Gospel reading, after the magi left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, telling him to "take the child and his mother and escape to
Egypt." Herod felt threatened by the newborn King of the Jews, so his solution was to have all the Jewish boys in Bethlehem under the age of two, killed. It is said in today’s Holy Gospel that Herod was “exceeding wroth”. This means he was full of fury, and the Holy Fathers tell us that fury was something Herod breathed in every day. It is the same for men who are slaves to their passions, and we may examine this within ourselves. The more we give ourselves over to some passion, the more we find ourselves the children of anger. And anger is the father of murder, as it ultimately leads to murder, and this was the unfortunate state of Herod. Our Church tradition puts the number of children killed by Herod, at around 14,000. (talk about the skulls in Bethlehem).

So Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt, and after Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared again to Joseph in a dream, telling him to return to Israel, and so he did, settling in the town of Nazareth. All these events, incidentally, had been foretold hundreds of years earlier by the prophets.

St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus, who we commemorate today, was the one by God’s grace, leading the Theotokos and Christ. A tradition of the Church says he was a widower with children (the "brothers" of the Lord); the Gospels tell us he was a just man, obedient to the angelic messages, and careful to protect Jesus and Mary. Saint John of the Ladder writes, "We could, grant Joseph, a greater place in our devotion. He is the most eminent representative of what one might call the holiness of the layman, which is neither the holiness of an apostle, nor that of a bishop or priest, nor that of a monk--all of whom are so abundantly commemorated in the ecclesiastical calendar—but is as that of the head of a family, of the man who plies a trade and earns his daily bread. St. Joseph is the natural protector of Christian families, of workmen, for he fed Jesus and Mary, as formerly the patriarch Joseph, in Egypt, fed his brothers and father at the time of famine."

So Joseph took Jesus and Mary to Egypt to flee the bloodthirsty tyranny of Herod. God gave the word, and Joseph acted, without hesitation. St. John of the ladder continues in his commentary, "The angel commands us, as he did Joseph: 'Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt.' That is to say: renounce your sin and your slackness; take into your soul the Jesus you saw at Bethlehem...flee the evil and the temptations which surround you; set yourself a hidden, retired, silent life, a life of intimacy with the small child and his mother--and also with Joseph.” May the life of the Holy Family...become an inspiration and model for us.

There is work in the Christian life; the work of sustenance, of commitment, of love, and this is the life of the Holy Ancestors of Christ, whom we celebrate this day. In addition to the Righteous Joseph, we commemorate King David who was a type of Christ and model king, a repentant sinner – after his affair with Bathsheba, he was also one of the forefathers of Christ, as well as a musician, as he wrote many of the Psalms. And, today, we also celebrate St. James, the Just. St. Jerome has this to say in his commentary about St. James: "After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem. Many indeed are called James, but this one was holy from his mother's womb. He drank neither wine nor strong drink, ate no flesh, never shaved or anointed himself with ointment or bathed. He alone had the privilege of entering the Holy of Holies, since indeed he did not use woolen vestments but linen and went alone into the temple and prayed in behalf of the people, insomuch that his knees were reputed to have acquired the hardness of camels' knees."

By the prayers and lives of these holy men, we all may be humbled – both by their lives and their contribution, and by their great humility and repentance. Let us all continue on the path given to us by the Holy Church, that of repentance and holiness, not giving up in our struggles to pray, even in the midst of rejoicing and festal celebration. And let us remember that it is a holy feat to rejoice! That is to rejoice in a God-pleasing manner – not with over indulgence, but with holy sobriety, rejoicing in the birth of our Lord, in all Godliness and Holiness Christ is Born!