The Escape to Egypt
13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, 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 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
The Massacre of the Infants
16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
18 “A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
The Return from Egypt
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, 20 “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” 21 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. 23 There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazarene.
It is interesting to see how our world defines kings or power. We are all about the sense of regality, of power and a sense of certitude that a king can bring. The idea that a new king has been born is a part of the Christmas message. What gets missed in the Christmas message though is that the story doesn’t end with Jesus’ birth in a manger and the wise men and shepherds coming. No, this story has more twists in Jesus’ early life.
You see, as we’ve been saying throughout Advent, God entrusted God’s self to us in Jesus. The Trinity, the 3 in 1 God flows into humanity through Jesus. It is a beautiful story, but rather than coming as a conquering king or in splendor and glory, Jesus shows up as a little baby born to first time teenaged parents in the middle of political and social upheaval. God comes to us, not in regal authority, but in true humility, which has more power than any conquering army.
After the birth in the manger in a dirty stall, our passage on this 1st Sunday after Christmas Day details Jesus’ first few days after the Shepherds and wise men visit.
King Herod, who was the ruler under Roman authority, was a ruthless politician. He had wide latitude and the roman army to back him up. He committed many atrocities to keep his hold on power. He was rather thin skinned and narcissistic I’d imagine…and furious that the wise men had visited Jesus and did not tell him where to find Jesus as they were told. So, he ordered all of the boys under 2 years old in Bethlehem to be slaughtered.
Joseph is warned in a dream by an angel to flee Bethlehem before this happens…but to make haste and do it that very night. Dreams are interesting, sometimes they can be windows into our hearts, our souls. The Divine was deep within Josesph, warning him, telling him to move his young family to safety. So, he got up, got Mary and Jesus and fled to the relative safety of Egypt to escape Herod’s persecution and to save the life of his son, and probably his and Mary’s.
Friends, this story is so important to us as we close 2022. This has been a year of many ups and downs for all of us I’d imagine, but it is also a year where we have seen one of the largest refugee crisis in the history of the world throughout the world, and especially in Ukraine. Through wars, famine, and political upheaval, there are now an estimated 60 million + refugees.
As followers of Jesus, we should recognize that Jesus was a refugee and if we are called to identity the image of God in each person, and to identify with all of humanity, and especially those on the margins through Jesus, then when we see a refugee, we are looking at Jesus through our shared humanity.
According the UN, the definition of a refugee is as follows:
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
I would say that definition certainly fits with Jesus in our story this morning. Jesus knows what it’s like to have to flee a country as a child, to know that his life is in danger. And his earthly father knew that he had to do whatever it took to get him to safety.
I’m also reminded of a refugee that I met in Brussels, Belgium a few years ago. He shared what it was like to have his boat overturn in the Mediterranean and to swim to the relative safety of a rock with his family and to watch 23 other humans drown who weren’t so lucky.
This amazing story of Jesus as a refugee was one wrought in peril, in danger. It could have gone bad as many refugee stories do. Even when Jesus and his family return to Israel, they don’t go back to Bethlehem. It’s too close to Jerusalem, and even though Herod had died, his sons and others still may not take kindly to Jesus. So, Joseph is instructed to go to Nazareth, which had recently become somewhat of a more independent region. This also fulfills a prophetic word about the Messiah coming out of Nazareth…as well as add to the narrative that God comes out of nowhere, and out of those in poverty. Nazareth was not of any importance in that day.
Friends, we may have gone through a lot this past year. And, as we face 2023, we will have some struggles to face personally, as a congregation, community, city, country, and world. Yet, even as we use the symbol of a baby as the new year 2023, we approach it with eager expectation. We don’t know what will happen, or where hope will appear, but we can have faith and commitment to a God who promises to be with us
When I became a dad, I looked at my kids with all sorts of amazement and wonder, I did not know what life with them would bring, how they’d turn out, but I knew I was committed to them. And, I know that in this new year, as I continue to grow, even in my mid-fifties, that my kids are a part of birthing something new in me.
Let us not forget that, just as we reminded in this morning’s gospel story, that God weeps with us and looks out for us. That the Christmas story is about what is being incarnated, fleshed out, birthed within us. May we have the listening ear, wisdom, and obedience of Joseph to follow God’s voice, even if it takes us places we may not want to go…but, as we go, be reminded that we are not alone and that God will make a way for us in 2023 and beyond.