St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Journey Into Egypt

 

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 28, 2014

In order to grow we must let go. We must leave what is familiar. Abraham had to leave his homeland to find his destiny and become the father of many nations.  Joseph, the son of Jacob, had to be sold into slavery to become a prince of Egypt. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, had to take off for Egypt to save the Christ child. Frodo had to leave the Shire to destroy the Ring and save Middle Earth.  This is the Hero Quest – a classic theme in life and in literature.

For all of them the danger lay in not moving, not leaving, not letting go, not taking risks, not leaving home. For Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, the danger would come in the form of Herod and his soldiers. Had he not been spiritually alive, aware, conscious and sensitive enough to be able to hear the Lord’s voice in his dream that warned him of the attempt to kill the Child, then Jesus would have been murdered like all the other male children under the age of two.  This is why Joseph was chosen. He was awake.  He was aware. He was sensitive. That is, he was righteous.

Now, Herod, was none of these things. He was a slave to his lust for power. He was moved by unconscious internal forces that drove him to bestial anger and murder to protect his position as king of Judea.  Upon hearing that another king, the “king of the Jews” was born, he began to hatch his plots to protect his interests, which, of course, consisted only of one, himself. 

The self-centered person sees threats everywhere and is constantly on guard. Like one of those Hindu deities with many eyes that look in all directions, the self-centered person is always scanning the horizon for threats, always ready to crush resistance, to become defensive, or to run away. Herod went so far as to commit infanticide to protect himself.

If Herod had been spiritually alive, that is, not afraid, not defensive, not self-centered, then the visit of the Wise Men to tell him of the wondrous event they believed was taking place, would have been a cause for joy and celebration. But because he was blinded by his self-interests he received the wondrous news as a threat.  This kind of life is a one of almost endless suffering.  There is no limit to the suffering self-centeredness provokes.

Joseph, the Righteous man, represents the person who has been set free of self-concern so much that he was chosen for the task of being Mary and the Lord’s guardian. The one who is set free of obsessive self-concern is the slave to no one and nothing.  This person has become truly human, conscious of his internal life and, therefore, conscious of his external life. Awake, aware, enlightened, free, able to accept and embrace all the ups and downs of life without resistance and fear.  This one is mindful of God’s presence in each and every moment, able to hear and able to respond freely, unencumbered by the regrets of the past and the fears of the unknown future, he can act wisely in every situation.

In the Sondheim musical “Into the Woods” the Baker is left alone with his child after the death of his wife. He is riddled with insecurities because his father had abandoned him and feels that he is not capable of being a good father. He is seen in the woods holding his crying child as his fears and insecurities begin to consume him again and cause him to ruminate over his unworthiness when he hears his dead wife’s voice (it is, after all a musical) tell him, “Just comfort the child.”  In other words, just be present and do what must be done and everything will be alright.

Joseph was like the Baker at this moment.  The will of God for Joseph was clear. He was awake enough to hear. The Baker experienced an epiphany and suddenly he was reborn from the frightened child of his youth to the responsible father who could comfort his child.  Joseph is attuned to the need of the moment.  St. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Philippians, “forgetting the things that are behind us and stretching forward to the things that are before us…” not what lies ahead in the future, but what is before us in the present moment, right before our very eyes.

So what is the path that leads to this way of life.  Repentance, of course. St. Porphyrios speaks of two methods and I want to end with a quote from the wonderful book WOUNDED BY LOVE.

“There are two paths that lead to God: the hard and debilitating path with fierce assaults against evil, and the easy path of love. There are many who chose the hard' path and 'shed blood in order to receive Spirit' until they attained great virtue. I find the shorter and safer route is the path of love. That is, you can make a different kind of effort: to study and pray and have your aim to advance in the love of God and of the Church. Do not fight to expel darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for the light to enter, and the darkness will disappear. The same holds true for our passions and desires. Do not fight them, but transform them into strengths by showing disdain for evil. Do not choose negative methods to correct yourselves. There is no need to fear the devil, hell of anything else. These things provoke a negative reaction...The object is to live, to study, to pray and to advance in love...”

I agree with him. The second way is best, certainly for us who live in the world rather than in monasteries.  “Study, pray and advance in love.” 

So, the journey into Egypt represents two things: the journey into oneself and the journey into the necessity, potential and radiance of the present.