The Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt

On the Sunday after we celebrated the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, we read Matthew 2:13-23 as the Gospel lesson – the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you 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 for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:  A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.”

Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.” Then he arose, took the young Child and His mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.  And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

New Testament professor, Nathan Eubank, writes:

“This pattern of richly allusive biblical quotations continues in the accounts of the flight into Egypt and the slaughter of the infants. In (Matthew) 2:15 the return from Egypt is said to fulfill ‘that which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I call my son.”’ In Hosea 11, this line appears in the midst of God’s declaration of undying affection for Israel despite Israel’s perfidy. God remembers calling his ‘son’ – which refers to the people as a whole – out of Egypt, and recoils at the thought of the punishment that looms as a result of Israel’s unfaithfulness. The wider context of the quotation  resonates with the hints of end of exile and salvation from sins that have already appeared in Matthew’s narrative. Matthew, however, transfigures Hosea’s poignant recollection of how God calls his ‘son’ out of Egypt by reading it as an event that finds its fulfillment in the life of Jesus. The calling of Jesus out of Egypt ‘fulfills’ God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt as well as his promises of faithfulness to Israel in Hosea. Matthew thereby introduces an Israel typology in which Jesus embodies the role and fate of the entire people. He is the son who will save his people from their sins. Hosea describes wayward Israel as God’s own child whom he led out of Egypt, and in the remainder of the chapter this familial relationship between Israel and God is the ground for God’s promise that he will ‘return them to their homes’ (11:11). Matthew takes up this metaphor and weaves it into his catena of allusions to the end of exile, but now, instead of looking back at the nation as God’s son, Hosea, on Matthew’s reading, looking to the future when a son (cf. 3:17, 17:5) will embody the fate of Israel in himself.” ( Wages of Cross-Bearing and Debt of Sin, p 116)

We are sorely reminded in the Gospel that the first Christmas story was  not all warm fuzzies, presents, parties and sentimentality.  The birth of Christ resulted in bloodshed and murder of children.  God acts to save the world and unite humanity to Himself, but the response by some in the world to divine love was wrath, mass murder and terror.  At least in the Church we read this story in the context of the Nativity of Christ, reminding ourselves what the world is and what it is not.

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