Jesus the Refugee - Lectionary Reflection (Matthew 2) for Christmas 1A

Matthew 2:13-23 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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.” 
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.”
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 Nazorean.”

                If you are a follower of Jesus, living in the United States, what do you make of this story from Matthew? What it does say to you about how we as a nation should respond to the plight of refugees, especially those who have fled from the carnage that is Syria? How much vetting is enough?

                Matthew tells us that sometime after Jesus’ birth, the Holy Family was warned by an angel to flee to Egypt, and find refuge there, because a tyrant named Herod, who would brook no rival, aimed to kill them. This occurred after Herod learned from the magi that a new king of the Jews had been born in Bethlehem. Hearing this word, they did flee. Thomas Troeger writes of their status:
According to Matthew then, Jesus starts his childhood as a refugee: fleeing from Judea to Egypt, then briefly from Egypt to Judea, and finally from Judea to Galilee. Jesus’s early childhood gives witness to the truth that Matthew will later have Jesus summarize in his own words: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have their nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt 8:20). The infant Jesus has nowhere to lay his head from the day he is born. The Holy Family is a refugee family. [Feasting on the Word, p. 167].

The Holy Family was fortunate to get out of town in time. They found refuge. Unfortunately, not everyone living in Bethlehem was as fortunate. As is so often true in times of war and crisis, not everyone escapes. So, for the children living in Bethlehem who could escape, they faced the sword of Herod’s soldiers, and Rachel wept for her children. Yes, Jesus was spared for the moment. His time had not yet come. In the meantime, the innocents were slaughtered.

                We have watched, indeed, we have watched with disinterest, as the innocents have been slaughtered. We have watched as people have fled their homes, hoping to escape the slaughter. Too often they have found that the doors of welcome have been shut. What would have happened had the Egyptians turned Mary and Joseph and their child away, as our nation is turning away refugees?

                I don’t know if you will hear this passage read on Sunday, at least not in its entirety. It’s not a pleasant passage to start a new year, but perhaps it is a word we need to hear, and if we skip over the hard part, the slaughter of the innocents, will we miss something important? I’m not preaching Sunday, so I don’t have to deal with the passage. But in the end, we do have to deal with its message. 

                What do you make of the story of the refugee status of the Holy Family? What message does it have for us as followers of Jesus? 

Picture Attribution: He, Qi. Escape to Egypt, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved December 28, 2016]. Original source:


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