Second Sunday of Christmas
January 3, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain: “Say to Jacob, and tell the Israelites: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to Me. And now, if you will listen closely to Me and keep My covenant, among all the nations, you will be a treasure to Me although the whole world is Mine. You will be a kingdom of priests and holy people to Me.’ Tell Israel that” (Ex 19:3-6 AAT).
With mighty acts of deliverance, God made Himself a people by delivering them from the Egyptians. Never had the world seen such a display of power and majesty: the plagues on the gods of Egypt that the world’s most powerful magicians were at a loss to recreate; God’s mighty judgment on the firstborn children; the parting of the sea and the defeat of the mightiest army in the world. All without anyone in Israel lifting a hand, except Moses, who was commanded by God to lift up his hands so that Israel could escape.
The displays of God’s might continued in the wilderness: water from a rock; bread from heaven; quail for meat. Then Israel got in on it, too with military victory after military victory. If God had ever been on anyone’s side it was Israel departing from Egypt and making their way to the promised land. A treasured possession. A “peculiar treasure.” A kingdom of priests—royalty with direct access to God.
If there is anyone in the history of the world that should have had unwavering faith in God, it was the Israelites. “If you keep my covenant,” says God by the mouth of Moses, “you will be My people.” But they didn’t even receive the divine agreement before they had abandoned God for idols. When Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, the people grew restless and convinced Aaron to build a god that was more to their suiting. See, this God who appeared in the pillar of fire and smoke, who delivered them with an outstretched arm, who went before them to lead and behind them to protect, this God was just too uncontrollable, too unpredictable (though if they had listened to His Words, they’d know exactly what His intentions were).
But a god cast of gold in the shape of our choosing is a god we can get a hold of. Israel didn’t want to be a people of God’s making; they wanted a god of their making. They wanted to crown Him Lord of all with many crowns. They weren’t content to be a kingdom of priests; they also wanted to be a kingdom of gods—gods unto themselves.
It’s the old temptation that comes back again. You will be like gods if you would only trust in yourselves. This is why a lot of people seek out religion. Self-trust is something natural—it’s the way we’re born, the way we’re taught, it’s the message that world gives. Every Disney movie is an iteration of the theme, “Believe in yourself.” This is what Martin Luther termed enthusiasm. It doesn’t mean being really excited or committed to something, but literally means “the internal god.” It means that the natural tendency of man is to look inside himself for all that is good, right, and true.
The First Commandment is: Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. But who is Me? Who is the God who goes before all other gods? He is the God who goes before Israel. The First Commandment isn’t the First Word that God speaks to His people. I am the LORD your God, Who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves (Ex 20:2). The Word that precedes the Law is God’s mighty act of deliverance. He is the One who brought out of Egypt, who delivered from slavery. He is the One who made Himself a people who have no other gods, who do not misuse His name, who keep the Sabbath holy, who honor parents, help neighbors in their bodily needs, love and cherish spouses, protect each other’s property, speak well of each other, and live contentedly with the gifts that God gives.
But Israel failed and failed spectacularly. Despite the show of God’s power and might, despite the miracles and victories and direct revelations of God’s presence, they would not believe.
The somewhat ironic thing about God’s power is that it’s never really able to create faith. That’s not a God problem; it’s a human problem. Though we want a God who’s stronger than all our problems, we’ll never believe in Him because of His strength. His power only ever reveals our powerlessness, and that’s a pill we don’t want to swallow. So God does a new thing. He doesn’t come in power, but He comes in weakness.
That’s the central thesis of the nativity of Jesus. The almighty and infinitely powerful God of the universe makes Himself powerless, for there is nothing more powerless than an infant lying in His mother’s arms. He does not appear in the fire and the smoke, but in the flesh of a baby Boy. He sets aside His eternal majesty that He shares with His Father since the beginning in order to take the form of a servant. This is the Servant whom Isaiah foretold, the Servant who will succeed where Israel failed, who would do what is necessary to make a people for God, a treasured possession, a peculiar treasure.
And it was necessary for Him to come out of Egypt, as the Scriptures said. Out of Egypt I called My Son. Israel went down into Egypt to escape famine. Jesus went down to escape a massacre. From His birth, the strong and powerful wanted Him dead. Herod couldn’t stand the thought of someone with more power than Him, so he sent his soldiers to Bethlehem and its surroundings and executed anyone who bore any resemblance to the Infant.
The slaughter of the Holy Innocents shows that Jesus was born to die, thought it was not yet His time to die. The angel warned His parents in a dream, and so they escaped to Egypt where Jesus would be safe. For some time the Holy Family hid out until the angel returned and told them that Herod was dead. It wasn’t the angel’s word, however. It was God’s Word. Out of Egypt the Father calls His Son.
Jesus becomes a new Israel, only He doesn’t exit Egypt amid power and great glory, He exits in the arms of His mother, in humility and great weakness. Hardly anyone in Egypt knew of His departure, and if Matthew hadn’t included this detail in his history of Jesus, no one would know.
But it’s important to know, because the new Israel isn’t a people of a certain bloodline. The new Israel follows Jesus by faith. The new Israel finds God revealed in humility, and in weakness. The new Israel isn’t drawn by fire and smoke and miracles; the new Israel is drawn by the cross. This is how He delivers His people—with an outstretched arm nailed to a piece of lumber.
His weakness accomplishes what His power could never do. It creates faith. And it’s by faith that God creates His people. St. Peter writes, You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for possession, so that you make known the excellent character of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet 2:9). For the same One who called His Son out of Egypt also calls you out of your Egypt. That is to say He calls you out of your slavery to sin, to death. He leads you from that darkness by the Light that is Christ.
He chose you, not because of anything you have done but because of His good pleasure. He made you a king and a priest. You have a share of divine royalty and direct access to God. He set you apart in a holy nation, the Church, for you are washed, and you are sanctified. He incorporated you into a people of His own possession, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ.
At this present time you and the entire people of God wander in this wilderness. But your eyes are always fixed on Jesus, who began and will complete your faith. Because there is a promised land for the people of God.
Jesus Comes Out of Egypt to Make a New People for God
A people of faith in the One who saves with an outstretched arm.
In the name of + Jesus.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard