Matthew 2: 13 – 23
‘Get up, and flee.’
This reading from Matthew is the continuation of the Christmas story. Jesus is not left in the manger, but almost immediately there is action and things happening as a result of his birth. The wise men visit and leave; and we join the story of the implications of that visit are played out.
In many ways, Matthew relates the story as part of a bigger picture – to show how all that happens is evidence of the realisation of old prophecies; the prophecy of the weeping in Ramah; the prophecy of the calling of God’s son out of Egypt (reminiscent of the first Exodus from Egypt by Moses and his people). ‘All this happened because…’ says Matthew, looking at the bigger picture; but today I cannot help but wonder about the smaller details, the human details. After all, Mary and Joseph were ordinary people – just like you and me.
The Holy Family went and returned a different way; and different people. It wasn’t a baby who was taken but a toddler, a young boy – no longer ‘new parents’ but an established family unit. Perhaps there were siblings on their way.
More than that; the family would have returned back to their homeland with experience of being the outsider, the foreigner, the asylum seeker. It’s likely that there was a Jewish community in Egypt into which they could have settled, but it still must have been a difficult experience.
I wonder how this would have changed them?
Did they find it difficult to settle back into their old ways, their old communities? Were they welcomed back easily, or was it a bit more difficult? Did their neighbours want to know what it was like in Egypt, or were they uninterested?
And did it change Mary and Joseph’s perception of new-comers? Did they make an extra-special effort to offer hospitality to others, because they knew how important that was?
I wonder how the other children took to Jesus? Did they do that wonderful thing which children have the capacity for – regardless of race or creed or language they find the common ground of play; or did they take a while to let Jesus into their games, confused by the odd Egyptian words he used?
As I’ve pondered on the human story of the Holy Family’s fleeing to and returning from Egypt, it’s been impossible not to reflect on how their experiences are being mirrored today by thousands of people in different places around our world. For the last five years, refugees have been fleeing the conflict in Syria into surrounding countries. This would have been the land of Jesus’ time; makeshift camps have arisen and a semblance of life has had to go on – babies born, people die. Yet all of them their life is in limbo. For many of those children, they will have little or no memory of life before exile, life before conflict and fear. For those children, those refugee camps will be ‘normal’… what sort of life is that? If – pray God when – the conflict ends and they can return home, what sort of life will they return to?
Perhaps there are folk among us how have had to flee their home; perhaps some of your families arrived in Britain generations ago because they had to flee.
As someone who has never had to leave somewhere other than by my own choice, I cannot begin to imagine the depths of the difficulties and pains.
And yet, Jesus did know.
This is the mystery of Christmas – our God, made human, is almost immediately thrown into the maelstrom of being a refugee, into the family knowledge of having to flee violence of being an outsider. To those who were expecting a powerful king to bring about God’s kingdom, this didn’t make sense. Yet, perhaps they might have heard the words of Isaiah:
It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
God, our God, shared our life in all its fullness – experienced the absolute highs and lows. Surely we take more comfort from a God who walked with the refugees and lived in their camps than a God who kept his distance behind palace walls. A God who experienced being the outsider can walk alongside all who feel like the outsider – and we’ve all felt the outsider at some point. A God – our God – who loves us so much as to do this. This is the wonderful mystery; this is the love which came down at Christmas. It’s almost too wonderful to comprehend.