2nd Sunday after Christmas - Hosea 11.1 - January 4, 2014
1) In the last chapters of Genesis a famine sweeps across the known world, threatening to take the life of Israel, his eleven sons, and their families. It threatens not only their lives but the entire promise of God. The Lord had promised that the Messiah would arrive through the seed of Abraham, grandfather of Jacob. But in this famine the Lord provides an escape. There is but one place in the world which had an abundance of food. Jacob tells ten of his sons in Genesis 42:2, “Indeed I have heard that there is grain in Egypt; go down to that place and buy for us there, that we may live and not die.” By the end of Genesis Israel, His twelve sons and their families are living in the land of Egypt, safe from famine and the messianic line still intact so that Lord’s promises would not fall to the ground unfulfilled. Years later Egypt would enslave Israel. This suffering would last for four hundred years until the Lord called Israel out of Egypt by the hand of Moses. The Lord could have averted the whole disaster and alleviated four hundred years of suffering and servitude but He did not. He allowed this persecution and cross upon His people so they might learn to trust the true God all the more and rely solely upon His promises: that He would save them for their persecutors and give them the land He promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, so that Messiah would come forth.
2) The prophet Hosea recounts this salvation history to the people of Israel when He writes in the eleventh chapter of his prophecy, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hosea 11:1) The exodus is, and ever will be, one of the chief signs of God’s love and tender compassion for His people. The Lord calling Israel out of Egypt shows Israel the Lord’s faithfulness to His promises. No foreign nation, no worldly power, no satanic Pharaoh will stand in the way of the Lord making good on His Word. The exodus also shows forth the Lord’s love for Israel in that, at the exodus, the Lord adopted the nation of Israel as more than His people, but as His son. The Lord tells Moses in Exodus 4:22-23, “Thus says the LORD: "Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.” Israel is a son to the Lord, not servant or slave. The adoption of Israel as the Lord’s firstborn son is then the reason why the Lord kills every firstborn son in the final plague upon Egypt. The Lord tells Israel, as they stand on the border of the Promised Land, “in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went.” (Deuteronomy 1:31) Israel was God’s adopted son whom He loves, so that “he who touches you touches the apple of His eye.” (Zechariah 2:8)
3) It is this verse, Hosea 11:1 that St. Matthew quotes in today’s Gospel lesson. He writes: “When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’” (Matthew 2:14-15) Hosea’s prophecy isn’t predictive as other prophecies are. The promise that the virgin will conceive and bear a son is a predictive prophecy. But Hosea 11:1 doesn’t specifically refer to the Messiah, or to a future event in the life of Christ. It looks back to the exodus: “out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hosea 11:1) This passage isn’t predictive, which makes some think that St. Matthew is playing fast and loose with the Scriptures. But this is not so, for the Holy Ghost is the author of Scripture. St. Matthew is simply the human instrument through which the Word of God is put into human language. So it is more than St. Matthew making this connection between Jesus’ flight to Egypt and Old Testament Israel’s flight to Egypt. It is God the Holy Ghost inspiring this connection.
4) How is this passage, “out of Egypt I called my son,’ fulfilled by the Christ child? Christ fulfills this passage because where Old Testament Israel was the adopted son of God, Jesus is the Only-Begotten Son of God, the Son of God who is of the same substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. What St. Matthew is getting at with this citation is this: the life of Old Testament Israel is all a foreshadowing of the life of Christ promised to come. The entire reason Old Testament Israel existed was that it was to the nation from which the Messiah of the world would sprout. That is why after the Messiah came there is no longer any need for God to have a physical nation of Israel. Israel’s history, laws, and customs had served their purpose in being the incubator for Christ, the One who is Son of God not by adoption but by right and essence. The parallels can be seen easily. Joseph is told in a dream to flee to Egypt because the life of the Christ child is in danger. Just as Jacob’s family and their lives were in danger because of famine, now the Christ’s life is in danger because of the madman Herod, who was seeking to kill the infant king. Egypt was to be a place of safety for the Christ child just as Egypt was a place of refuge for Israel during the famine. If we do the math of Herod’s years and death we see another parallel, namely that while the people of Israel spent 400 years in Egypt, Christ spend four years in Egypt. Finally Christ was called forth from Egypt, back to the land of Canaan, to fulfill all the promises of God regarding His Christ.
5) There is great comfort in this for us. God called His Son out of Egypt because this is how God deals with His sons. In His divine wisdom, which far surpasses all human wisdom, intellect, and reason, God the Father allows His Only-Begotten Son to be persecuted by wicked Herod. He allows this trial and suffering to come upon the holy family. Mary would have only given birth to Jesus a few months prior to this event and would still be healing. Joseph would have the difficult task of relocating His newborn son and healing wife to another country in which they knew no one and no family or support system. This is a great cross which the Lord has laid upon the holy family. But it is necessary because it is through this cross of traveling to Egypt that the Lord saves the Christ child so that He might live to save sinners from their sins by His death at the appropriate time. Just as God allowed Israel, His son, to dwell in Egypt under the heavy hand of Pharaoh so that He might demonstrate His abundant mercy and might to Israel, so the Father allows His Only-Begotten Son to endure such hardship and cross so that by this child’s death at the proper time, He might demonstrate the might of God over Satan’s tyranny and the mercy the Triune God has for sinners.
6) This is how God treats His sons. In the exodus, the Lord is already conforming His adopted son Israel to the image of His Only-Begotten Son. This is also then how he treats the New Testament Israel, the church, both collectively and individually. The Lord allows sufferings to come upon us, not out of spite and anger, but to teach us to turn to the true God in faith, looking to Him alone for aid. The Apology to the Augsburg Confession has this to say about our afflictions: And although these afflictions are for the most part the punishments of sin, yet in the godly they have a better end, namely, to exercise them, that they may learn amidst trials to seek God’s aid, to acknowledge the distrust of their own hearts, etc., as Paul says of himself, 2 Cor. 1, 9: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead. And Isaiah says, 26, 16: They poured out prayer when Thy chastening was upon them, i.e., afflictions are a discipline by which God exercises the saints.” Old Testament Israel was afflicted in Egypt that they mighty learn to call upon God in every trouble and place their confidence in His Word, not in the imagination of the their hearts or any external work they might do. So Christ was disciplined in the days of His humiliation, not because He needed to learn true faith, but to serve as an example of how to endure in hardship, trial, and cross. Christ endures all His fatherly chastisement in patience and faith, living not by bread alone by but every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.
7) So it is true for all the baptized faithful. Baptism is God’s act of adopting you as His sons and daughters. It is not your act of adopting God as your Father, for what child ever chooses their parents? St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:26-27, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” In Holy Baptism God adopts you as His beloved son or daughter. In Holy Baptism your sins are forgiven and you are united with Christ’s death and resurrection. In Holy Baptism God clothes you with the garment of Christ’s righteousness so that in Holy Baptism the Words of the Father at Christ’s baptism become words to you: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) God is pleased with you because you become His adopted child, just as Old Testament Israel was His adopted Son, yet you are righteous in God’s sight because your sins are forgiven in those waters and as St. Peter teaches in his first epistle, “Baptism now saves us.” (1 Peter 3:21) God gives so many blessings and gifts in baptism, and one of those blessings is the promise of suffering. St. Paul teaches us in Romans 8:29 that “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” But the suffering, trial, and crosses of this life are not given without any consolation. In the verse that precedes this one St. Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) That purpose of God is to conform you to Christ’s image, for you are truly sons and daughters of God by Holy Baptism. This is how he treated Israel, leading them into Egypt for safety and then for suffering. This is how God the Father treated His Only-Begotten Son in the days of His humiliation, leading Him to Egypt for safety as He suffered the wrath of the world and the hatred of Herod. In our crosses He leads us into Egypt as well, but the suffering has the purpose of comforting us to the crucible which is Christ Jesus, for it is in afflictions that we exercise faith and learn all the more to trust no in ourselves, our knowledge, our works, or the thoughts of our hearts, but to true only in God, who is our loving and gracious heavenly Father. Amen.