This Sunday’s Sermon

THE NAZARITE – December 27, 2020 – Pastor Donna Doutt – Matthew 2:13-23

I saw this little meme on Facebook right before Christmas, and it got me to thinking about the reality of where we are today, and most importantly where we come from.  

Of course, Mary and Joseph were devout Jews. We know that for sure. The shepherds were very poor. Sheep farmers were generally seen as having low or little value by other people, so we know they lived in poverty. The three wise men were from Arabia, Persia, and India. Yes, they traveled. So I think this little cartoon is actually very accurate.

My family were immigrants. Generations ago, my forbearers came from Ireland. My grandfather, Solomon in 1843, from Londonderry, followed by the woman who would become his bride, her name was Mary, in 1847.  They were fleeing the infamous potato famine in which more than 1,000,000 people died.

That famine had greater consequences than just all of those deaths. As a result there was permanent change in the country’s demographic, political and cultural landscape.

There was a great upheaval against a government in London who couldn’t care less that people on that island of Ireland were starving. Remember there was no Facebook, no nightly news, no social media. Queen Victoria and those London lawmakers couldn’t see it happening, so they just didn’t acknowledge.

In addition to the 1,000,000 that died, approximately another 1,000,000 fled the country as refuges trying to save themselves and their families. It couldn’t have been an easy decision to make.

While visiting Ireland, I saw a replica of the kind of ship that my grandfather came to American on. It was called “the ship of sorrows.” Those boats were sometimes referred to as “coffin ships,” and I could see why. The trip took approximately 12 weeks. I can’t even imagine it. Such bravery and endurance.

And that’s where we are this week in our Jesus’ birth narrative. At my Christmas Eve service, I talked about the back-breaking pilgrimage from the blessed Mary’s home town of Nazareth to Bethlehem as required for the government census. It was a trip over almost 100 miles by foot and on donkey. It probably took the couple about a week to get there. Think about it…how fast can a 9-month pregnant woman walk?

So now the blessed event has occurred. They are better rested, but still in Bethlehem. Our scripture today tells us: [1]“God’s angel showed up again in Joseph’s dream and commanded, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child, and wants to kill him.”

14-15 Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.”

[2]The Holy Family is said to have fled to Egypt, where King Herod could exert no political powers and consequently, would not be able to harm baby Jesus. Upon arriving in Egypt, the Holy Family moved locations very frequently so as to avoid the reach of Herod’s spies. In total, there are 26 locations throughout the country where it is believed that the Holy Family passed through or sought refuge in during their three-and-a-half years in hiding. They were eventually able to safely return to Palestine after the death of King Herod.

What an ordeal! One of their first stops in Egypt was reported to be Cairo, approximately 250 miles from Bethlehem.

This poor family is on the run constantly during Jesus’ early, formative years. Can you image fleeing your home country, spending almost four years being chased and hunted down in a country that is foreign to you? Doing all of this with a little child?

But, yet, here in the 21st century, in our United States, we see persecuted refugees, whole families, coming distances of close to 1,500 miles carrying their small children. It’s easy for us to remain distant from it because we only have to watch on the evening news, or read it in the papers. But ask yourself the question…COULD I DO IT?

Jesus can identify with the many migrant peoples of the world today. He is an international Savior who knows the pain of forced migration. That is indeed good news for those who have been displaced by natural disasters, famine, or political unrest. I often think of the people of New Orleans that were NEVER able to return to their homes after Hurricane Katrina.

Have you ever thought of Jesus as an intercontinental political refugee? He was, according to the Christmas story in Matthew 2:13-15. Through His parents, the Asian-born Jesus sought political asylum in Africa, avoiding the infanticide ordered by King Herod, the ruthless ruler of Palestine.

While they were in hiding, perhaps they were absorbed into the one million Jews estimated to have lived in Alexandria at that time.

Our scripture continues on in verses 19-20Later, when Herod died, God’s angel appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt: ‘Up, take the child and his mother and return to Israel. All those out to murder the child are dead.’”

21-23 “Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother, and reentered Israel. When he heard, though, that Archelaus had succeeded his father, Herod, as king in Judea, he was afraid to go there. But then Joseph was directed in a dream to go to the hills of Galilee. On arrival, he settled in the village of Nazareth. This move was a fulfillment of the prophetic words, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

And when the family migrated back to Palestine, they did not settle in a privileged neighborhood, but in Nazareth. Nazareth was in insignificant agricultural village nestled in the hills about four miles from Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee. Ironically, it’s never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. It appears that Nazareth could not have had a population of more than five hundred in Jesus’ time. Nazareth, Mary’s home town, was, by all indications, a simple peasant village. Chances are also that they were related to just about everyone in town.

But to be a Nazarite was significant. Because of their deep religious fervor they were expected to make special “vows” to enter into what was considered “holy state” of living. [3]That included that they had to be dedicated by their parents vow (or on their own),

1. Refrain from the fruit of the vine and other intoxicants. 2. not allowed a razor to touch their hair, or to cut their hair. 3. Not allowed to go near a dead body, not even that of one’s own father or mother.

Two famous Nazirites were Samson and Hannah, who pledges that if God grants her a son, he will be a “Nazirite until the day of his death”. This son is the prophet Samuel.

Acts 18:18 refers to Paul getting his hair cut because he had been under a vow, which might imply that he was concluding a period of Nazarite observance as well.

So, we know that as a child of a Nazarene couple, that Jesus religious upbringing must have been strict and focused squarely on God. He spent his early childhood in simple work and worship. But Mary did you know what was next?

As a devout Nazarite, one who was fully immersed and living out the commandments of the Torah and the Old Testament scriptures, my guess is that…yes, she knew…she had knowledge of the prophesies.

Mary may not have known the specifics of who Jesus would heal or what miracles he would accomplish, but she seems to have had a biblical and theological understanding of what the Messiah’s coming meant.

Luke 2:19 gives us a clue as to her thought process after the shepherds arrived, when we read in our scriptures, (and I referred to this in my Christmas Eve service), “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

 I have to tell you that as a mother, I’ve always loved that scripture. I have things “treasured up” in my heart as well. But Mary’s thoughtfulness at this event indicates that she knew from the Scriptures what was going to happen in her life and that of her son.

This week, we are at the beginning of our biography on the life of Christ. We have a simple, devout man and woman, Mary and Joseph, chosen by God to bring life to our savior, raise him up to manhood…to be earthly parents to this precious child…

A young Nazarite boy, who was once a refuge like so many others, who comes from a simple, “other side of the tracks” neighborhood and yet, he who would bring salvation to the world.

I can see the newspaper headlines in the Nazarene Gazette in 27 AD, “Local boy takes his show on the road!”

The simple Nazarite young man, local boy, is going on the road to become a rock star. And although he never again migrated out of Israel, his power stretched across the earth.

This message only sets the stage for what comes next. This is only the opening chapter. You are invited to come along with us each and every week here at Savannah UMC, as we hear and learn the rest of the story.

Amen.   


[1] The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

[2] https://www.memphistours.com/Egypt/WikiTravel/History-Egypt/wiki/Holy-Family-in-Egypt

[3] Powell, Mark A., Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, HarperColllins, NewYork. NY. Print.