Wednesday, December 23, 2009

HAVING JESUS IN YOUR HEART 4

The next in a series of articles based on the Gospel of Matthew intended to equip us better to be followers of Jesus Christ.

“After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,’ the angel said. ‘Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod's death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: ‘I called my Son out of Egypt.’ When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. ‘Get up!’ the angel said. ‘Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.’ So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod's son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” Matthew 2:13, 14, 19-23 (NLT)

This short story seems at first glance inconsequential in the life of Jesus. Only Matthew includes it, presumably because he very much wants to prove that Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies made about the Messiah. Coming from Egypt and Nazareth are predicted. For instance, “Out of Egypt I have called My Son,” was written by the prophet Hosea (see 11:1). But, we know now the original reason for telling this story. It is included in the New Testament because the Lord wanted to include in the internal sense of the Word a description of how the human mind of Jesus had to develop just like any person’s mind does. Of course this revelation is very hidden. We have the details of this internal sense from the Writings for the New Church. It is amazing how the Lord used just what we would expect Joseph and Mary to do, to be the basis for precisely the internal sense He needed to reveal.

To get that information, we have to know what Joseph, Mary and Jesus went through. It was awful! They got out of Bethlehem in the middle of the night, not knowing where they would end up. Joseph had a trade, but would he find work? They could move easily, but that was because they could carry all they owned on a donkey and on their backs! Jesus was perhaps two months old, so there were many issues confronting a new, first time mother and her child. We are not told how many days later the soldiers came to kill the babies, but Mary and Joseph knew they were fleeing for their lives. They were so rushed that they apparently got up in the middle of the night right when Joseph’s dream ended, packed everything, and left. I can imagine that the people that were renting them their room thought that Joseph was crazy!

We can guess that while they lived in Egypt Joseph found work and Mary and the baby were fine. They had enough food and shelter. And they remained true to their religion while believing the Messiah had come. Joseph was still ready to respond to the Lord’s messages, and understood the meaning of the next dream the Lord gave him, that he should return home. So they packed up again, and made the long trek up the Mediterranean coast straight to Nazareth.

They must have experienced tremendous spiritual growth during these first few years. First they had to accept their roles as the earthly father and mother of the Messiah. Then they had to adapt to the strange ways of the Egyptians. They had to give up the dream of a life in their ancestral home, Bethlehem, or in Jerusalem, where a higher standard of living was possible, and instead return to Nazareth, a small and obscure town, known as the home of criminals hiding from the law.

The spiritual meaning of all this is that we all go through a variety of circumstances in our lives, which are all educational. The Lord wants us to always hope that He wants us to come through any experience better off spiritually, and better able to love the Lord and our neighbor.

Sometimes we feel like we are running from some invisible evil. Negative thoughts and feelings can haunt us like the memory of a bad dream. We can be comforted by knowing from the Word that many times our feelings are the result of spirits we associate with. But we still feel like we need to get away, that escape is necessary.

Sometimes we don’t know how things are going to work out, especially relationships. As we make new friends, we don’t really know where we are going. Once I got to be more and more friends with a neighbor. And then he showed us that he was not following the Lord. It was sad to stop associating with them. The next time we started to make new friends, sadly, we remembered that. We didn’t know what was in store for us. We all can feel wary as we travel on the journey of life.

Sometimes we have brand new feelings or thoughts that we want to protect, but we are afraid we will be hurt by someone else. We can hide, or we can be proactive. We can feel insecure, or we can be in action that feels good because we are depending on the Lord to lead us. Even as newborns are fragile, but resilient, and have lots of strengths to respond to threats, we need to protect our new, precious states of good, while affirmatively going forward in life. Relying upon the Lord is key.

The Lord wants you to keep listening to Him, and do what He asks in His Word. Basically, this means paying attention to the Ten Commandments. He knows it is tough sometimes. He knows that sometimes you will feel like you are in a strange land. But the Lord has also given you abilities and the tools to use them: your own personality or character. You have these from your parents, and from others, and from the Word. You are ready to put them to use, even though it is a scary world sometimes. The Lord’s plan for your life ends wonderfully, even if it doesn’t look that way right now. Every time we listen to the Lord, He gives us a little bit more information or skill with which to live our lives.

Here is a suggestion: Take a moment to look around your home and see what you would take, and what you would leave behind, if you had to move suddenly and could only take what you could carry. And note that this is what is happening spiritually all the time: we are picking and choosing what to believe and love. It is hard to break old habits, to leave something dear behind, but it might be necessary if you want to pick up anything new. The Lord wants to give you desires and ideas that will lead you to heaven. Beware picking up and carrying away anything the Lord would object to. It will only slow you down. You’ll only have to get rid of it later, so might as well do it sooner.

And then, take delight in the journey, knowing that the goal is your happiness in heaven, and that the Lord is doing everything necessary to see that you get there!