Tuesday, January 3, 2017

God does not send you out alone!


So Israel took his journey with all that he had and came to Beersheba, and offered sacrifices to the God of His father Isaac.  And God spoke to Israel in visions of the night and said, "Jacob, Jacob."  And he said, "Here am I."  Then he said, "I am God, the God of your father.  Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.  I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again..."  Genesis 46:1-3

THE Old Testament is a Christian book.  Jews, and even Muslims, may claim it as their own, but the Old Testament, just like the New, was given to the church, to be used in the church, by the church and for the church.  You, along with all the faithful people of old, are that church, the Bride of Christ made spotless by His blood and washed from every stain of sin by faith in the Newborn King.

You did nothing to merit this blessing!  Quite the contrary, you've done everything possible to pacify your flesh and puff up your sinful pride.  Like the proverb says:  the dog returns to its vomit, but God's love for you is relentless, even as it is for your children and your children's children, so peace!  Be still.  As He is able to redeem you he will redeem them as well so that there may be one flock and one Shepherd.

As we hear this account of Jacob going down to Egypt we should know that the events occurred just as scripture reports.  However, they are not an end in themselves but tell instead the story of Jesus, who also went down to Egypt.

The first thing we learn is the when of Jacob's encounter with God.  It was during holy worship.  We read that he "offered sacrifices to the God of his Father Isaac," and this is crucial because Divine Worship is not merely a "service" but a theophany, a factual encounter with God!

Whenever you worship you leave the precincts of the world for a time, and enter something of a corridor between heaven and earth.  Here you experience communion with the Holy Trinity through the Word and the Blessed Sacrament.  Like St. Paul, you are elevated to the third heaven where you see things and hear things that make your head swim; where you get glimpses of a dazzling future that no tongue can tell, but one nonetheless that fortifies you in every fiery trial that comes your way.

Note, too, the where of Jacob's encounter, a place called Beersheba, the place where Jacob's grandfather, Abraham, discovered what was most rare in that arid part of Palestine, a well of running water!  Next to it he planted a tamarisk tree, a shade tree that retains moisture and is ever-green; but what is the meaning of all this?

The tree is prophetic of the cross on which the true sacrifice is made for the sins of the world; the one sacrifice that affords you cooling shade from the scorching heat of judgment brought about by your sins, and as often as you look at a Christmas tree, it should remind you of this tree which is a symbol of the Lord's cross.

Water in Scripture should always remind us of baptism; of the water made holy by our Lord's Institution that delivers us from death and the devil and gives eternal life to all  who believe in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yet there's more!  As Jacob went down to Egypt with all his wealth and possessions in tact; our Lord, too, came down to earth in full possession of His divine power and glory.  He veiled it to be sure.  He humbled Himself to be certain, by assuming our humanity and thus was not recognizable as God by most.  This is the reason, too, that the Eucharistic elements are veiled before they are revealed:  as a liturgical reminder that His glory was hidden, but our Lord was not a "hologram" or a "ghost."  He did not only "seem" to be man but was fully man, and thus it had to be, because in the words of the 4th century church father, Gregory of Nazianzus, "What Jesus did not assume, He did not heal," but He did, in fact, assume our humanity; heal it, cure it, and make it well from the evil's deadly venom.  The case is exactly as we sing in the Christmas Carol, "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.  Hail the incarnate Deity.  Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel."

Having said this, however, does not exhaust the meaning of today's Old Testament lesson.  As Jacob went down to Egypt, so our Lord also went to Egypt in order to escape the wrath of Herod, but more importantly to fulfill the meaning of Jacob's trip there.  Jacob went to Egypt to preserve the Old Testament church from extinction by famine, but within a short time Israel found herself in utter bondage, and there she remained four hundred fifty years.

However as all things must, this misfortune served the purposes of God.  As the LORD went down into Egypt with Jacob, and brought him back by the mighty hand of Moses, even so Jesus was not alone when He came down from heaven to rescue us, when He went down into bitter servitude, sufferings, death and grave for us.  He was not alone, but God was with Him and raised Him again by His Spirit on the third day!

Like Jacob, and like the child Jesus, we too are often forced into Egypt, but the word  the LORD spoke to Jacob is just as applicable to us.  "I am your Lord.  Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for ... I myself will go down with you ... and I will also bring you up," and so He will dear Christians.  Whatever Egypt you find yourself in, rest assured that as He brings you up to His altar today to restore you, to purge you of your sins, replace your fear with courage, your doubt with faith, your confusion with a clear mind, and your sorrow with solace, "I will bring you up,"  He says.  On this you can rely O Israel of God  Amen.

~  Rev. Dean Kavouras

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