Missio Advent: A Geography of Grace

During Advent, Missio is concurrently running two series.  On Mondays and Wednesdays Cameron Barham, lead pastor of Christ Community Church in Kennesaw, GA provides Advent devotions from the Gospel of Matthew.  On Fridays, Drew Masterson of The Washington Institute provides a series of reflections on four films for Advent.


[13] Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” [14] And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt [15] and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” [19] But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, [20] saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” [21] And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. [22] But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. [23] And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene.
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

God has a tendency to take us down different paths and by stranger ways than we would choose for ourselves. While we cognitively ascend to the truth that God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts, we often struggle with the practical outworking of His antithetical ways and thoughts in our lives. This is why it often requires quite a bit of distance from the converse events and places for us to recognize the geography of grace that was unfolding all along.


Matthew grants us a glimpse of this reality in the life of the Christ child in Matthew 2:13-15 and 19-23. The Lord guides Jesus and his family to two different locales that on the surface make little to no sense; however, when examined through the lenses of redemptive history, they become a geography of grace for the people of God.

The first destination is Egypt in order to flee the wrath of Herod and fulfill Hosea 11:1, that declares God’s son will be called out of Egypt. Why would God want to be able to say that His son has come out of Egypt? According to Frederick Dale Bruner, “Jesus goes down into Egypt (in a kind of prefigured crucifixion) and is brought up out again (in a kind of proleptic resurrection) in order to inaugurate the New Exodus of the people of God. As Matt 1 taught the New Genesis by the birth of the promised Son of David, Son of Abraham, so Matt 2 teaches the New Exodus in the migration in and out of Egypt by Jesus the New Moses….”[1] This intentional detour signals to the people of God is yet another sign that deliverance has come.

The second destination is Nazareth in Galilee after the death of Herod. Why Nazareth given Phillip’s question in John 1:46: “Can ANYTHING good come from Nazareth?” Mark E. Ross proposes, “Though he was the born king of Israel, heir to David’s throne, worthy of the worship from all the nations, and ‘God with us’, Jesus was indeed a Nazarene, for our sake. He came among us in lowliness and humility, to lead us in a new exodus, out of our bondage to sin and death, into the glorious liberty of the children of God, wiping every tear from our eyes.”[2] While there is no specific Old Testament prophecy that declares that Jesus was to come from Nazareth or be a Nazarene, the fact that he does is consistent with the ethos of lowliness and humility in Isaiah 53. This king would not come to oppress and punish but to set free and forgive. What a glorious and strange landscape indeed!

egypt-1233368Consider the geography and landscape of your life, the places and ways that the Lord has led you up to this point during the Advent Season. While your map will not be filled with the magnitude of redemptive meaning as Jesus’ geography of grace, there should be much for which you can give thanks to God who is leading you all along the way. As I reflect on my own life, I am not who, what, or where I thought I would be when I started college. My first major (of many) was pre-law. My desire was to be a district attorney some day to go after the worst of the worst out of a sense of revenge instead of true justice. Somewhere along the winding way, I graduated with a degree in psychology and was accepted to the physical therapy school that I least wanted to attend. I was there, so I thought, because this would be a great way to make a good living and not have to work nights or weekends. My less than stellar motives were only eclipsed by the hubris of my radical anti-theism and hatred in particular for Christianity. It would be in the mountains of North Georgia, where I had least thought I would find myself at that point in my life, that the Lord would overtake me and redeem me as His son.

This sparked a chain reaction of events that included me marrying my wife, discovering my love for serving others in need and at the margins, and discerning a call to pastoral ministry that would be 15 years in the making (that is a whole other story). As a result, I have a unique bond to Dahlonega, Georgia that I don’t share with any other place. I am now thankful for the route that He fashioned to bring me to Him and to to discover my gifts and vocation.

As Advent approaches, meditate on this quote from John Calvin that beautifully captures the paradox of God’s gracious mapping of our lives:

“This wonderful method of preserving the Son of God under the cross teaches us, that they act improperly who prescribe to God a fixed plan of action. Let us permit him to advance our salvation by a diversity of methods; and let us not refuse to be humbled, that he may more abundantly display his glory. Above all, let us never avoid the cross, by which the Son of God himself was trained from his earliest infancy. This flight is a part of the foolishness of the cross, but it surpasses all the wisdom of the world. That he may appear at his own time as the Savior of Judea, he is compelled to flee from it, and is nourished by Egypt, from which nothing but what was destructive to the Church of God had ever proceeded. Who would not have regarded with amazement such an unexpected work of God?”[3]

Give thanks for God’s unique geography of grace in your life, and look forward to the unexpected places He will take you in telling you that He loves you!


Cameron Barham is the Lead Pastor of Christ Community Church in Kennesaw, GA.


Images: FreeImages.com/Kristian Vazovsky, diego ortega d

[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew, A Commentary: Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), 75-76.

[2] Mark E. Ross, Let’s Study Matthew (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 23.

[3] John Calvin, Commentary on Matthew, Mark, Luke- Volume 1, accessed at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom31.ix.xxiii.html.

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