You know the feeling you get when someone mentions the name of a person who has wronged you? Or talks about a place that represents a season of pain and brokenness?
Maybe it’s an ex. Or a former business partner who cheated you bad. Maybe it’s an old friend, a boss, a church, or a professor.
Your heart starts beating kind of quickly. Your palms get a little sweaty. That strange pit comes into your stomach and you feel nauseous and anxious and angry all at once. Memories are weird, aren’t they?
As I read and heard the Christmas story this year I couldn’t help but wonder if that’s what Joseph and Mary felt when the angel appeared to them and told them to go to Egypt.
“Now when they had departed, behold, and angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, and destroy him.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod.” Matthew 2:13-15
Egypt. The nation who oppressed the people of God for hundreds of years. Four centuries of ruthless taskmasters and unfair enslavement. Four hundred years of pain and hurt and brokenness.
Mary and Joseph had already been required to trust the Lord a lot. Mary who bravely trusted. Joseph who “resolved to divorce her quietly” until being met by an angel. They who were visited by mysterious messengers of God, bearing little instruction and a weighty promise. Who chose to obey knowing that they would be misunderstood and ostracized. Who travelled to Judea for a census and were denied a proper room. Who gave birth in a beaten down shed and put their brand new baby in an animal’s feeding trough. Who were now asked to go to Egypt.
I wonder if they felt betrayed by God. Scripture doesn’t give us any reason to believe they were visited by angels between the announcement of Mary’s pregnancy and the arrival of the shepherds and wise men. What did they think as they waited? Did they question God’s goodness? Did they regret being chosen for the task? Did they wonder, “When will it end?”
And then Jesus is born on a trip away from home and they are warned in a dream not to go back. Instead, “Go to Egypt.” Rephrase: Go find safety in the nation who deeply oppressed and brutally abused your ancestors. Find refuge in a place of past horror.
Think about that for a moment. They had travelled with nothing more than what fit on the back on their donkey and now they’re asked to go far from home, in the complete opposite direction.
I just can’t stop thinking, “Could that possibly be any worse?”
But the more I wonder and the more I press into the character of a God who fights for what makes us holy above what makes us happy, I think rather, “Could that be any more like Jesus?”
“And He who was seated on the throne said,‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” Revelation 21:5
In fact, the very first thing Jesus did on Earth was to be the agent that God used to lead his family back to Egypt where they would find protection instead of abuse. What a stunning picture of grace.
All things new. All things new.
So often He asks us to look back on the things we’ve said “See ya, never” to. He asks us to reflect and to remember. He asks us to grieve and mourn.
He asks us to hope and He offers us healing.
2016 may have knocked you down hard. It may be full of people and places you never want to see again. I get it; I’ve got a list of my own.
As you take your first steps into 2017, might you ask the Lord to help you find the Egypts lingering in your heart? Is there a person, or a place, or a memory you refuse to revisit? Are you clinging tightly to bitterness and hurt? Are you willing to look back and consider that Jesus wants to make all things new… not just the easy things. Not just the comfortable or convenient.
Though we serve a God who beckons us to come as we are, it is the kindest intention of His heart to want to make you new. Don’t let a day more of this new year pass before you’re willing to step into the mess and ask Jesus to bring wholeness and healing.
So what’s the thing? Where’s the place? Who’s the person?
All things new, Beloved. All things.