Our word Advent comes from the Latin advenire, which means “to arrive.” It obviously looks forward to the arrival of the Messiah, the birth of the Prince, the coming of Immanuel. Our word for adventure has the same root, but comes to us by a different route. From wandering, traveling, happening upon things by chance, the word came to mean risking the loss of something by your arrival in the middle of the excitement. And as it happens, the Christmas story contains both elements.
“And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son . . . But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee” (Matt. 2:13–22).
Background to the Text:
It is worth mentioning at the very start that Joseph’s namesake was Joseph from the book of Genesis. Both men were named Joseph. God communicated with both of them via dreams. God saved both of their families through those dreams, and He did so by bringing them down to Egypt.
The shepherds came the same night the Lord was born. Scripture does not tell us that there was a stable, but it does say the Lord was placed in a manger. The wise men came later because we are told that when they arrived, they came to a house (Matt. 2:11). After they slipped away from Herod, the king had all the boys two and under in the Bethlehem area murdered according to when the star had first appeared (Matt. 2:7). We see from this that the star had appeared two years prior, which means that Jesus was could have been as old as two when their family fled to Egypt. We know that they came back from Egypt in 4 B.C. because that is the year that Herod the Great died.
Summary of the Text:
One of the common features of “adventures” is that a particular person is “selected” by what seems a very odd providence, and is given a responsibility far greater than anything he had ever imagined could happen. This is how Jim Hawkins comes into the treasure map. It is how Frodo gets the ring.
But think for a moment exactly what was entrusted to Joseph. His wife had given birth to the king of the universe, one who had come to save His people, and a powerful king was trying to kill the boy. Joseph is warned in a dream by an angel of the Lord, and he gets up immediately, in the middle of the night, and obediently runs. Notice what Joseph knows by this point. He knows that Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus (Matt. 1:20). He knows that the boy will grow up to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). The heart of the gospel is right here. Joseph knows that foreign dignitaries had arrived at their house with chests full of precious things (Matt. 2:11), and that they had prostrated themselves and worshiped Him. He knew that these wise men were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod (Matt. 2:12). And he now knew, through another dream, that Herod was going to try to kill Jesus. He is a poor man, an unknown man, and suddenly he is the midst of a cosmic adventure story—the cosmic adventure story.
Joseph and Mary were the guardians of the most important treasure ever to be entrusted to anybody in the history of our world. They were both faithful Jews, and it is worth nothing that they were both entirely obedient. Unbelieving Israel as a whole was going to be judged a generation out, but Israel as represented here in the remnant was faithful and obedient. They did as they were told.
Notice also that Mary was not only obedient to the Lord through the angel, but she was obedient to the Lord through her husband. Joseph and Mary represent Israel at her best.
All Is Not Calm, All Is Dark:
Yes, in one sense we could say that all was calm, all was bright. But in another sense we have to say that all was not calm, all was dark. The Christmas story includes the decree of a despot, the clash of swords, the weeping of bereft mothers, a breathless flight by night, and the urgency of a high-stakes adventure.
Now there is nothing wrong with Christmas acquiring a sentimental value. But that sentiment must never replace the reality, the foundation, the whole point. Holly, and silver bells, and snow, and egg nog, are a lot of fun. Hot dogs on the Fourth of July are fun too, but that is not the essential meaning of self-governance. The reality is that Christmas is our commemoration of the most white-knuckled mission ever undertaken. The Second Person of the Trinity took on a human body, the miracle of miracles in its own right, and then He was placed in the arms of a teen-aged girl, who was being guided and protected by a man who was certainly being asked to rise to the occasion. He was given a mission he had not signed up for.
Expect the Unexpected:
One of our carols sings, “Hail, thou long-expected Jesus,” and in one sense this makes perfect sense. It is Advent because of this sense of expectation. But it is an adventure because of all the unexpected elements in it. Did Joseph go to bed that night expecting to leave for Egypt a few hours later?
How many of us tell ourselves a story something like this? We say that we could really be obedient if the Lord would just keep us from being blindsided so much?
We are of course supposed to imitate Jesus in our Christian lives. But sometimes we are hampered in this because we “spot ourselves” with the reassurance that we cannot do it fully—because He was perfect. So then, imitate Joseph. Imitate Mary. Jesus died for their sins as well as ours, and yet they are fully worthy of our imitation.