Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, 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, to destroy him.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
In recent years it has become customary to state that if the 3 wise men had been 3 wise women they would have: arrived on time, brought a casserole and cleaned the stable. This was in reaction to the old fashioned understanding of the gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold as grave goods.
In fact these are gifts as practical as the casserole. Frankincense is, among other uses, an air freshener. When our older daughter was a teething baby an active ingredient in the gel we rubbed on was myrrh. (By the time our younger daughter arrived it was known that myrrh can cause liver disease.) Frankincense and myrrh are both practical gifts in the circumstances and maybe any surplus can be used for bargaining. And gold?
Something had to be used to pay the bills for a long term stay in Bethlehem. Somehow this poor carpenter was having to work his socks off to afford it all.
Then, the worrying news brought by the visitors, confirmed in a dream, of Herod’s interest. Not much time to consider what to do, only a reason to go. Familiar images of terrified people walking dry, dusty roads surely form in our mind’s eye. A gift of gold turned out to be better than a lottery win for it was an acceptable medium of exchange for displaced people about to be thrust across countries as refugees. A gift at the right time, it turned out.
Matthew simply states their refugee status as fulfilling a prophecy. We recognise so many modern situations, for individuals, families and nations within it, the suffering, loss of place and livelihood. There is a short prose poem, though too long to quote here, about the judgement at the end of world. You can search for “The Long Silence” here.
Lord, when we wonder what gifts to give, give us understanding, when we wonder about unexpected interest, give us insight, when we are undecided about a course of action, give us direction. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Browning, retired minister, member of Thornbury URC
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