By RHONDA SCHROCK
Standing there in the light of the tree, I open it up. Little, my helper, leans forward, eager to see. I lift the protective covering, and there they are, the holy family nestled within.
One by one, I take them out and set them on the table. My little boy, named for an angel, reaches out a hand. He’s enthralled, captivated by the season and all its trappings. From trimming the tree to cutting out cookies to stringing the lights, he’s been a constant companion, a faithful shadow who refuses to miss a single thing.
Together, we arrange them in their spot by the tree. Three wisemen, bearing gifts. A shepherd, holding a lamb. A cow, a camel and another sheep. Joseph and Mary follow, carefully taking their places.
And then. With reverence, we lower Baby Jesus, the Christ Child, into His place before the assembled motley throng.
It’s a peaceful scene. Kneeling there, I feel it — a holy hush, expectant, pregnant with hope. With joy. With promise. With foreboding. For what it doesn’t show, this idyllic still life, is what was yet to come.
No hint of danger here where shepherds worshipped. No sign of darkness, of evil in the stable low. No thought of pursuit or murderous intent, not here where wisemen brought gifts and a star shone bright.
“Oh, do you know,” I nearly say it aloud, “that Egypt is coming? That Herod awaits, and one day, a cross? Do you know, strong father, young mother, what threatens your boy?”
In the quietness of my home, I can almost hear it. The clashing of swords, the howls of rage over the gentle sounds of animals, the rustle of the hay and the cry of an infant. How odd.
Odd, yes, and unexpected. For a story that began with an angel’s visit, a heavenly host and a brilliant star would not move next to Egypt, would it? What novelist would write a plot like that?
Egypt, land of ancient pharaohs, of pyramids. For a plain woodworker and his bride, just come up from the town of Nazareth, it was a foreign country, a place of strange customs, an unknown culture. Why would the story call for a stay in Egypt?
Why, indeed? And why do any of us suddenly find ourselves, as it were, in an Egypt season? Egypt, with all its isolation, uncertainty, difficulty and pain. What on earth is it for?
Some theologians call them the lost years, the time they spent in a strange land. Away from home and family, from all that was familiar, there they dwelt. For years.
Lost years. Isn’t that how it seems when you’re living in Egypt? When all is foreign and you feel alone, cast adrift and forsaken, it’s hard to believe something else.
Perhaps your Egypt today is poverty. Whether it’s a lack of income or a poverty of spirit, you are in need, and you’re desperate for help.
Maybe it’s loss. Someone you love is gone, and the empty spot at the table isn’t nearly as big as the one in your heart. You are in need, and you’re desperate for comfort.
Perhaps your Egypt is sickness. You’ve been stricken, and you find yourself wandering in a desert called pain, lined with hospital corridors. You’re in need, and you’re desperate for healing.
In these times, the heart cries, “What in the world is Egypt for?” For Joseph, Mary and their son, Egypt spelled protection from a king who sought to kill. By leading them into a strange and unlikely place, God preserved their lives. What looked like isolation and abandonment was actually mercy and grace. Egypt meant protection.
It also meant preparation. In those years of sequestration, a loving Father was preparing them for what was still to come. All that they would need for the suffering, the ministry and the coming glory was being wrought in them in those Egypt days. Egypt was for preparation.
What does this mean for us who live on this side of the cross? The answer, my friend, lies in His name. Emmanuel.
Emmanuel, God with us, has come. He has come, and He is with us in our Egypt seasons.
In times of loss. In days of pain. In years of poverty, there’s only this we need to know. Simply this to which we cling — Emmanuel.
In every need, Emmanuel. God is with us. He who makes all things new can redeem our Egypts. Can make the desert bloom. Can make the crooked places straight. Can provide all the riches, comfort and healing for which we’re longing.
In his hands, you see, the “lost years” aren’t lost at all. For in our extremity, He’s protecting us in ways we cannot see and preparing us in ways we do not know for all that’s yet to come. This is the glorious news of Christmas, that God is with us. Oh, come! Let us adore him.
From our family to yours, a very Merry Christmas.
Rhonda Schrock thanks her pastor, Dave Engbrecht, for the message that inspired this column and for giving her permission to share it with you.