When [the magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.
I don't know about you, but if God had given me the instruction “Stay there until I tell you” it probably would have taken less than a week before I was highly begrudging of the situation and less than two before I began to convince myself I must have heard Him wrong!
Waiting for something which is entirely out of your control can be so hard. We like to control things, we like to make things happen. And when we’re powerless to change or affect our circumstances we can be quick to become disheartened and disillusioned.
Life in limbo is horrible
Yet this is exactly the kind of liminal space that Mary and Joseph find themselves in. In a strange country, waiting for word that someone has died so that they can go home. I can't begin to understand how difficult this reality was to face up to - but they must have found a way!
First century Egypt wasn't exactly a place renowned for its government run welfare system. They would have had to find accommodation, and some form of income. They'd have had to find some sort of community (which was essential for survival in those days) and set up a sense of home that was secure enough to raise an infant in. They would have had to do their best to dig trenches, and make the most of their limbo-like circumstances.
How often do we feel like we're treading water or in limbo in our ministry?
If I'm honest this past term has felt exactly like that for me. I'm juggling multiple jobs and commitments, and the way I've historically led student ministry has, for a number of reasons, not been possible to continue. I'm not quite sure what I’m doing. Lots of things are uncertain and I have no idea what the future is going to look like. Into the midst of this I've felt God speak the not-so-comforting words “be patient”. I’m not great at this! But I'm feeling challenged by the example of Mary and Joseph:
What does it look like to make the most of limbo-like seasons? What does it look like to live through them well?
The answer will change from person to person and situation to situation. But I wholeheartedly believe that God can be encountered in these liminal places and there is much to be learned here. And despite how hard it was to walk through, I bet you Mary and Joseph looked back on their time in Egypt as a season in which they discovered the faithfulness of God in profound ways and learned lessons that helped them to trust Him in the years to come.
What else about the time in Egypt encourages / inspires / challenges you?
For more Nativity-prompted reflections check out the posts below:
Photo credit: Sonja Langford