Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, "God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here." So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.
Do these sound like a strange choice of Scriptures to read on the first Sunday of Advent? Trust me, there’s a reason for it!
Joseph was an important official in Egypt. When he died, he made the Israelites swear they would take his bones with them when they left Egypt, to bury him in the Promised Land. He knew that it would be about 300 years before they left Egypt, and that’s a long time. (Think how much has changed in our country in three hundred years!)
We don’t usually think of an Egyptian mummy as a symbol of hope, but the remains of Joseph became a sacred trust to the children of Israel. When the regime in Egypt changed and the Israelites became slaves, they still had the remains of Joseph in an Egyptian sarcophagus to protect. That mummy became a symbol of their national identity, one that the Egyptians would never dare touch. As the years went by, that mummy was a constant reminder to Israel that they were not from Egypt; they had a land promised to them somewhere else, and some day they would be returning there. They had a promise to fulfill.
When the Israelites left Egypt, the book of Exodus says that they took Joseph’s coffin with them, leaving an empty tomb behind. They dragged that coffin with them for seventy years in the desert as they wandered, a burden but a constant reminder of God’s promise when they were discouraged and tempted to give up.
When they finally got to the Promised Land, the book of Joshua tells us that they buried Joseph, as they had promised, in the Promised Land.
It’s like Christians and the cross. Some people object to crucifixes as being a grisly symbol of death, but they are a constant reminder that the Savior who died for us has promised to return.
We aren’t from around here; we have a home that God has promised us, and that’s where we’re going. There is an empty tomb and a resurrected body (instead of a mummified one) to remind us of His promise. It’s a sign of hope, in the biblical sense of the word: the joyful anticipation of something in the future that is absolutely certain.
Lord, keep Your promise ever before me. Remind me of it when I get discouraged or lose my way; I have a home in heaven and You will come to take me there, just as You promised. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
Pastor Dan Giles