Refugee Redeemer

When they 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.”

— Matthew 2:13

The ESCAPE to EGYPT

So Joseph got up, took the Child and His mother
during the night and left for Egypt, where
he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was
fulfilled what the Lord had said through the
prophet: Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

********** 

When Herod realized that he had been
outwitted by the Magi, he was furious,
and he gave orders to kill all the boys in
Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old
and under, in accordance with the time he had
learned from the Magi. Then what was said
through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

**********

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great
mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and
refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

— Matthew 2:13-18

Awakened from his dream with a start, Joseph roused Mary,

ordering her to grab what she could.

They were leaving and they were leaving now. Herod’s bloodthirsty soldiers were making their way from Jerusalem with murder on their minds.

“We only have the one donkey. Hurry! Yes, get Jesus and let’s get out the door. Hurry!”

The streets were deserted except for an occasional stray dog. Joseph pulled the donkey as fast as he could. It didn’t seem fast enough.

What was that sound? The soldiers may already be here. We have to move faster. Please keep Him quiet. Try to get Him back to sleep. 

When they reached the outskirts of the village there was some feeling of relief. Joseph stole a look backwards. No figures moving behind them. No torches. No sounds. But he couldn’t stop or slow his pace, although his legs were crying out for a moment of rest. He stopped to fix their small bundles of clothes that had shifted from the donkey’s fast pace. Why is everything so hard when you’re in a hurry?

They felt their way through the darkness, stopping only where they had to so the donkey could be fed and watered. It is hard to be inconspicuous when you’re obviously escaping something. It kept playing on Joseph’s mind – What if they are on horses? What’s the speed of a donkey compared to a horse? Who can I trust? Dear God, help me get my family down to Egypt. We’ll be safe there. Herod can’t touch us there.

So the Holy Family pushed on to Egypt, another in a long parade of refugees that have fled before the threat of extinction. Centuries haven’t changed much. Under these circumstances, technology is of little consequence. Remaining are crowded roads, meager scraps in bundles of leftovers from that other life, push carts and crying babies. Not enough food, not enough time to rest, not enough of anything. Just constant movement forward because as miserable as these moments are, staying behind means only one thing: death.

Mighty Herod the Great. So paranoid that he destroyed anything that he thought might threaten him. He murdered his wife, two of his sons, a host of those in his court. He was so hated and so miserable a person that when he took his last breath he ordered that the Jewish leaders be rounded up and executed so people would be weeping on that day. Murdering an infant or ordering the mass murder of the baby boys in the Bethlehem area would scarcely cause him a moment’s pause.

Jesus wasn’t someone leading a rebellion. He wasn’t some traitor that was seeking to turn Herod over to his enemies. He wasn’t a spy stealing back to His homeland with information about the wicked king. He was a baby. A two–year–old caused Herod to panic.

Maybe this little Child was something more,
something that made evil tremble,
something that threatened to reorder everything.

Then again, wasn’t there something special about the Child that caused the Magi to hazard the desert, thieves and other hardships to offer their gifts? Herod had seen that star people talked about and wondered what it meant, too. Weren’t there rumors about angels announcing His arrival in that sleepy little village of Bethlehem? When Herod asked about Him, he saw the facial expressions of the religious leaders as they scurried to answer his questions. Maybe this little Child was something more, something that made evil tremble, something that threatened to reorder everything. Someone, something more…

Joseph led his little family deeper into Egypt.

“Strange. Our forefathers sought to escape this place and here I am running to it. What a difference from Palestine! The idols are everywhere. It seems like the Egyptians are totally taken up with magic. I need to find the Jewish settlements where I can protect my family from all this.” 

Finding other Jewish exiles was not difficult. Many had fled Palestine over generations to find refuge in Egypt. Alexandria had a huge Jewish settlement, as did many other towns. It was not home and yet it would have to be home for a while. Among exiles, Jesus learned to play and talk and form His sentences. In coming to earth as a baby, the Son of God was already far from home. Now He was a refugee among refugees.

Later, when He was a man with memories of fleeing with His family as an exile, Jesus would say, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Rest is what the refugees found.
Rest is what the Redeemer gives. 

— Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee, Editor in Chief and National Literary Secretary

Truth for Today

We pause once again in the busyness of our hectic and frenetic lives to give thanks to God for His wondrous gift. It was the greatest gift ever given to humankind; a gift of healing, wholeness, restoration, love, reconciliation and relationship with the God who created the universe and our world.

The Apostle Paul reminds us of just how awesome that gift is: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 New International Version).

It is sad how many people fail to recognize and experience the truth of the gospel message; a message of good news reminding us of God’s love and provision for whoever chooses to believe and take Him at His word.

At the trial of Jesus, Pilate asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Today, increasingly, we ask ourselves that same question. In recent months, we have had to expand our vocabulary to accommodate concepts such as alternative facts, false news, fake news. Little wonder that we live in a generation that is more and more skeptical and suspicious of any claims of absolute truth.

For many, truth has become relative and subjective; it is what feels right for them or what they choose it to be on any given day or in any given situation.

In fact, subjective approaches to truth are nothing new. People of all generations have chosen to read and interpret truth as they see fit.

How desperately we need to hear and live truth in a world that has lost its moral compass. Some would question the relevance and importance of Jesus and yet we see through the life He lived that God was truly with Him. When we look at Jesus, we see evidence of God working in and through Him. His life reveals the truth of God’s promise and message for the world.

Living in the confusion of this 21st century, it can be hard to distinguish truth, yet Christmas is about God breaking into our world in the gift of His Son, Jesus. The angels broke into the world of the shepherds to announce the birth of our Savior and those shepherds then went to the manger to experience the truth of what they had been told.

Jesus came and walked among us, died on the Cross that we might be saved, then rose again and ascended to Heaven where He reigns at the right hand of God. We know that one day He will return again to establish God’s reign on earth – and what a glorious day that will be! By returning to the Father however, Jesus did not abandon or forget us.

He said, “I will talk to the Father, and He’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take Him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see Him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know Him already because He has been staying with you, and will even be in you!” (John 14:16-17 MSG).

The challenge for us is to allow ourselves the space to be aware of and experience the presence of Jesus, which can be as real as that first Christmas.

We need to be His followers and His disciples in this generation, and He has promised us that “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are My disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you” (John 8:31-32 MSG).

Christmas is God’s greatest gift because we can know truth – truth that is more than abstract concept, a truth that is real and alive, embodied in Jesus and imparted by the Holy Spirit.

“And we know that the Son of God came so we could recognize and understand the truth of God – what a gift! – and we are living in the Truth itself, in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This Jesus is both True God and Real Life. Dear children, be on guard against all clever facsimiles”
(1 John 5:20-21 MSG).

I pray that you will experience the Truth this Christmas season.

— General André Cox is the international leader of The Salvation Army, which is at work in 128 countries.

The Greatest Gift

The birth of a child is a precious thing. It is surrounded by emotions such as joy, pride, fulfillment and dreams coming true. A whirlwind of activities take place: birth announcements, baby showers, nursery decorations; the list is almost endless. I remember, in detail, the birth of my two daughters. Never had I experienced such overwhelming joy. I instantly believed in love at first sight! I recall my wife Sharron calling each by name as soon as they were born. I was the happiest person on the face of the earth. 

I sometimes wonder what God was feeling at the birth of Jesus. He had known Him throughout all eternity past, but what were His feelings or emotions on that fateful night in Bethlehem? Seeing the Baby wrapped in cloths, laying in a manger, certainly evoked emotions. We know God was proud, as He said several years later, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.”

When my girls were young I used to dream about their future. Would one be a doctor, a teacher, a Salvation Army officer? Who would they marry? How many children would they have? I pictured the grandchildren coming to grandma and grandpa’s house for Christmas, Thanksgiving and birthdays. At night, I would hold my daughters and think about the weeks, months and years to come. Despite all my dreams for them, their future remained a mystery.

Not so with God. He knew exactly what the future held for His Son long before His birth. How He must have grieved, how His heart must have ached even amid angels singing “Glory to God in the highest” and shepherds gathering in the stable. He knew what Jesus would endure in the years ahead: the temptations He would face, the mockery, the beatings, the shame, and the cross that was His destiny. Yet the Father sent Him anyway. Although I understand the scriptural reference and the theology, I often ask myself, “Why did the Father send Jesus, knowing what He would have to endure?”

We can rattle off Scripture verses so quickly at times that they almost become rote. Verses like, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). While I so much appreciate that verse, I cannot fathom such love for the world. In my finite thinking, I would have said the price is too high! There is no circumstance that would lead me to offer up my children. I would reason that there must be another way. Frankly, I cannot understand the love that drove the Father to such extravagance. Without any doubt this was the greatest gift in all human history.

Gifts are measured by their value, not their price tag. Sharron will tell you that she has the finest of wedding rings anywhere. Why? Trust me, it wasn’t because of how much I spent. I was a young Salvation Army officer, with a weekly allowance of $40, and that was only when the corps had enough money to pay me. You must get very close, and the light must be just right even to see the diamond. So why does she believe the rings are so valuable? It is what they represent. In fact, today she would probably tell you that the rings are even more valuable because of the 41 years we have been married. She would not sell them regardless of the offer. (I think I am safe as no one would give her much for them anyway.)

 ”Why did the Father send Jesus, knowing He would have to endure?”

If value can be understood in terms of a simple wedding ring or the love parents have for their children, we must understand, especially during this time of year, the pricelessness of God’s gift to us. 1 John 3:1 simply states, “What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it — we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are” (MSG).

During the planning preparation, gift buying, travels and parties at Christmas, remember the reason for the season. It is about the love of God toward a world that turned away from Him. The world has been ravished by sin, death and destruction. But here is the Good News, in the words of the Apostle Paul: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

When exchanging gifts around the tree, pause and reflect about the greatest gift of all time—God’s gift of His Son. Think about how much your loved ones mean to you. Then take a moment to thank God for His mostprecious gift.

— Commissioner David Hudson is National Commander for The Salvation Army in the USA, where the Army has been at work since 1880.

Part Five — The Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep … I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and my sheep know Me” (John 10:11,14).

The metaphor of Jesus as the gate to the sheep pen (John 10:1-10) has been stretched to the breaking point. It gives place to yet another that has been waiting in the background. Jesus Himself is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18). Jesus alone fulfills the long-awaited prophecy of the coming of the Good Shepherd.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? … I Myself will search for My sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after My sheep … I Myself will tend My sheep and have them lie down … I will search for the lost and bring back the strays … I will shepherd that flock with justice”‘ (Ezek. 34:10-16).

“He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11).

“He who scattered Israel will gather them and will watch over His flock like a shepherd”  (Jer. 31:10).

In John 10:11-18, Jesus contrasts the good and the bad, the faithful and unfaithful shepherd. In doing so, He reveals the essence of His nature, the ultimate sacrifice He will pay for the sheep and the eternal relationship His flock will enjoy. Jesus chooses three precise words to enlarge and illustrate His role as divine shepherd: an adjective (good), a noun (life) and a verb (know).

GOOD: “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14). Jesus defines His nature as good. The Greek language has two words for “good.” The common word is agathos (pronounced a-ga-thós), meaning “inwardly good; of a good constitution or nature.” The second, more expansive word for “good” is kalos (pronounced ka-lós). Besides connotating inward goodness, kalos means “good in appearance; beautiful; aesthetically satisfying and pleasing.” Jesus said, I am the good [kalos] shepherd.” He is not only morally good, but good in every way—totally good, inwardly and outwardly. Kalos is goodness in the superlative. For example, kalos is translated “choice” in describing the wine that Jesus had transformed from water in Cana (2:10). One can appropriately translate John 10:11, “I am the choice shepherd!”

JESUS AND THE FATHER KNOW
THEIR “SHEEP” IN THE SAME WAY
THEY KNOW EACH OTHER. IT IS
A KNOWLEDGE BASED ON
PERSONAL ENCOUNTER. 

LIFE: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:llb). Three Greek words distinguish varying qualities of life. The basic word is bios (pronounced beé-os), from which we derive “biology.” Bios denotes “the period or duration of earthly life; life in its earthly manifestations; life as opposed to death.” The second did not understand the meaning of the story. Jesus plainly applies it to Himself: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (10:7).

In the allegory of the good shepherd (10:1-6), Jesus speaks of two types of gates. He uses the word for the “winter” gate in verses two and three. During the cold season, the sheep were kept in communal pens. A strong wooden door protected the sheep at night. Only the appointed guardian had the key to the door.

In verses seven and nine, Jesus chooses a word that describes the “summer” gate—the field sheep pen. Since good feeding grass was scarce in summer, the shepherd constantly led his flock to the best feeding areas, often miles from home. The summer pen was composed of a primitive stone enclosure in an open field. A space in the wall served as the gate. This was the only access to the sheep pen. At night, the shepherd slept across the opening. Sheep could not come in or go out except over his body. Literally, the shepherd was the door.

Jesus changed the word for “door” to underscore the fundamental truth that through Him alone His sheep find access to God. As the Apostle Paul affirmed, “Through Him we have access to the Father” (Eph. 2:18). Jesus opens the way to God.

As the gate to the sheep pen, Jesus provides secure passage for His followers to “come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). To come in and go out un­ molested was the Jewish way of describing an absolutely secure life. The leader of the nation was a person who could bring his people in and out safely (Num. 27:17). The obedient person is blessed when he comes in and blessed when he goes out (Deut. 28:6). The Psalmist is sure that God will keep him in his going out and coming in (Psalm 121:8). With Jesus the pathway to God and from God to service is unmolested.

Jesus concludes with this remarkable statement: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Literally, the phrase “have it to the full” means “to have a superabundance of something.” Jesus’ sheep enjoy a superabundant life. Only His sheep can truly say, “It just does not  get better than this!”

— Commissioner William W. Francis is a retired officer. He is also the author of The Stones Cry Out (USA Eastern Territory, 1993) and Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord (Crest Books, 1997), and is a frequent contributor to the War Cry and other Salvation Army publications.

Santa Wore Red Epaulets

Agnes and Alton had already raised their family. They has pastored the Redeemer Assembly of God for two decades and now it was time to retire. Well into their 60s, the thought of spending those “golden years” together must have been most appealing.

From out of the blue, two grandsons were on their doorstep needing a place to live. Agnes and Alton suddenly found themselves saddled with the prospect of raising two toddlers, one of who went on to become a Salvaiton Army Officer, in part because of what happened in that little family one magical Christmas.

It just so happens that the boys appeared about the time Agnes and Alton had resigned from their church pastorate. One order of business was to find a church to attend. Now that the boys were here, this became more of an issue.

It was at this point that someone invited Agnes to the Home League (called today Women’s Ministries) at the local Salvation Army corps. She went, and loved the Army from the start. She was told that the following week a Vacation Bible School was being held—ideal for the two boys. Naturally, an invitation to Sunday School and Sunday worship services.

The new little family was soon immersed in everything the corps had to offer.

A few years later, the corps officer offered the older boy an old cornet and a chance to learn music. He jumped at the chance. The boy would one day attribute his staying in school and out of trouble to playing in the corps band all those years, in addition to his school band throughout middle and high school.

Agnes and Alton quickly became stalwarts of local leadership in the corps. Alton became Corps Sergeant-Major. Agnes became Home League Secretary. She played the piano; he helped keep the corps (financial) books. They both taught Sunday School classes and were mainstays in the League of Mercy (Community Care) work.

For Agnes, involvement in The Salvation Army was the actualization of a childhood dream. When she was a teen, she saw a band of Salvationists on the street corner holding an open-air meeting. She wanted to join back then, but her Catholic family would not allow it. She simply suppressed that desire until it was rekindled some 50 years later.

Agnes and Alton wore their uniforms proudly and volunteered for everything—from cleaning the corps building, to corps leadership, to disaster work.

Agnes particularly enjoyed helping at Christmastime. Every year she helped take applications from needy families and even gave many hours on the kettles, and distributing the Christmas War Cry. But she enjoyed working in the Army’s Toy Store the most.

One Christmas was particularly lean for Agnes and Alton. Raising two boys was more expensive than they remembered—in some ways more difficult even than when they raised their daughter and son during the Depression. That Christmas they decided to sacrifice their gifts for each other in order to provide a Christmas for the boys—but even that would be spartan.

It was for this reason that at the end of the last day of toy distribution, Agnes spied a football for the older boy and a toy truck for the younger. “Could I please have these two things for my boys?” she asked the Captain.

How could he refuse? The Captain insisted that she not only take those two items, but a few others as well—and some candy and fruit.

It would be a glorious Christmas after all.

That Christmas morning, the two boys awoke and found a treasure beneath the tree. Santa had come, and their joy knew no bounds!

But it was that football which was most loved and most used by that older boy. Agnes knew it would be.

And I still have that football.

After all these years, I realize that the only red my Santa wore was on his epaulets—the corps officer being my real benefactor. When I became a man, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

I thank God for my grandparents, Agnes and Alton Duracher. I thank God for The Salvation Army. And I thank Him for an old, worn-out football which I take out of my trunk every now and then to remind myself of the greatest iRony of my life.

— Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor, USA National Publications