In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
An alarm rolls over to 6:00, and as the numbers clack together, the speakers begin to play the end of a Sonny and Cher song: “Just put your little hand in mine, there ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb. Babe. I got you babe.” And as the song fades, the dj team comes on: “Ok campers, rise and shine. And don’t forget your booties because it’s COLD out there. It’s cold out there every day. What is this Miami beach?” They then warn the listeners of an impending blizzard, but this is Pennsylvania, blizzards are a thing there. What they are really excited about is the fact that it is Groundhog Day.
Our hero Phil Connors is there to cover Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of the weather—early Spring or six more weeks of winter. He goes about his day encountering various people in a town he hates, on an assignment he hates, only to be trapped by the blizzard and forced to stay where he is another day. So he goes back to his little bed and breakfast to sleep off the storm and leave in the morning.
The alarm rolls over to 6 AM. Same Sonny and Cher song plays. Weird. Then same djs energetically anticipate their beloved groundhog’s prediction that day. And Phil Connors experiences the same day again. And again. And again. And again.
First he is annoyed by it, and then he is convinced he is a god. And then he thinks he is in hell. But after that, he begins to immerse himself in the world in which he lives and embraces it. Phil uses his expertise of that day to improve the lives of everyone in the town, and finds that he gets the girl, not by manipulating the situation as he had before, but to generally care about all around him and to impress her with his care for other people.
When he wins the girl and falls in love with the town, the cycle is finally broken and he wakes up. It is 6:00 and the song kicks on: “Babe. I got you babe. They say our love won’t pay the rent. Before it’s earned the money’s always spent.” Then the djs come on: “Oh come on, not again. That is a great song. No it’s not.” Phil has successfully made it to a new day.
Groundhog Day. A contemporary classic film from 1993 starring Bill Murray. This movie actually has a lot of things in common with our Gospel lesson today. Jesus and his family flee from the tyranny of Herod the Great to Egypt. Egypt had a fairly decent Jewish population at the time in Alexandria and Elephantine and other places, so it should not surprise us that Joseph took the Blessed Family to Egypt to escape Herod. It was far enough away that it was in another person’s jurisdiction, but not far enough away that they would have to abandon their religion.
But those are the historical circumstances, there is more going on here. Matthew points us to Hosea’s prophecy: “Out of Egypt have I called my son.” Now Matthew is no idiot, he knows that when Hosea prophesied this he was speaking about Israel as a whole. But Jesus here is represented as a collective representative of all Israel. Jesus as the representative of the whole was seen as repeating the acts of Israel to right the wrongs and to fulfill the promise of redemption. This is similar to the role Adam played in the downfall of humanity which is why Jesus is also seen as the New Adam, a collective representation of all of humanity that will allow for all humanity to be saved through Jesus’ obedience to the will of the Father.
But wait, there’s more. Egypt also takes on a deeper role than simply a place of refuge from the storm of Herod. Egypt has been a place of refuge many times for God’s people in the Bible. When the food ran short in the time of Abraham, where does he turn? To Egypt, the land of plenty—the Breadbasket of the World. When Joseph delivered his family from a world famine, where did he convince his brothers to live with their father? Egypt, where Joseph had become the second in charge, behind only pharaoh.
But what happens when people are in the place of refuge too long? They forget God. They forget his deliverance of them into that land, and they forget him and begin to become inhabitants of the land. During their time in the land they remember God and a deliverer brings them from the land and establishes a covenant between them and God, further revealing God to them.
As a result of this, Egypt and leaving deliverance from Egypt takes on messianic themes and becomes a hope for the Messiah who will come to deliver them. This theme is picked up over and over in the prophets. Egypt is the place out of which the people will be called for a new Exodus, a new deliverance from bondage and into the covenant relationship with God.
Only this time with Jesus, they get it right. Like Phil Connors, Jesus shows them that this deliverance cannot be gained by manipulation of God, but only through embracing God and working through his plan can they proceed to the next day. It is in this little baby who takes on all of the hopes and dreams of Israel and in turn the hopes and dreams of all of humanity onto his little shoulders as he and his family head to Egypt.
They do not stay in Egypt and the comfort that represented there, but instead heeded the call of the angel to return to the realm from which he came. And Matthew tells us after his return, in Jesus, Israel finally learned their lesson. Jesus allowed Israel to continue to fulfill the prophecies of God. Israel was finally allowed to progress on to the next part of the plan. They could finally stop repeating their deliverance from Egypt, and progress on to the next day.
So in God’s plan, there is always hope for the sinner. No matter how many times it takes, there is always the opportunity to learn from the past and listen to how to use that knowledge for the present and even the future.
Now let’s apply this. We are a couple days out from New Year’s—new year, new you. How is everyone doing with their resolutions? The good thing is, when those fail, there is always a chance again for a new start in Lent. And then after Lent there is Holy Week so that you can at least finish it strong with a new resolve. But then we can always make Easter resolutions to get ready for summer. And if not summer, then the start of the school year, and so on and so forth. The cycle goes round and round.
God always offers us an off-ramp to deliverance, we just have to learn where it is by preparing our eyes and adapting to allow for its presence. That is the beauty of this life, tomorrow is a new day. The failures of today have the ability to be accounted for as long as we are willing to put in the work to make them right.
This Gospel lesson today is hope for Israel in that they finally get to break the cycle of sanctuary, degradation, deliverance, and oppression to finally reach the desired result of union with God. This Gospel lesson represents for us the fact that God is willing to work for us as long as we are willing to work with him.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.