Summary: The Flight into Egypt by the Holy Family reminds us that that our spiritual journey home is a long one, often through dangerous territory and requires reliance on God to be successful.
THE LONG WAY HOME
MATTHEW 2 13—21 THE LONG WAY HOME
Sometimes, when we were young, we used to take the long way home, just to enjoy the scenery and the companionship.
Christmas is about a lot of things, but it is at least about getting back home. We sing about it: “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.
And “Over the river and through the woods.”
Over the river and through the woods,
To grandmother’s house we go;
The horse knows the way to follow the sleigh
Through he white and drifting snow.
Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh,
O’er the hills we go
Laughing all the way;
In our lifetimes we haven’t done much commuting by horse and sled. My family left the farm when I was 10 years old. My 10th year was the last year we owned horses or any animals other than a dog or an occasional cat or fish. When we had horses, there was an occasional ride in a small cart or on horseback. I recall only one magical night when we rode across the fields on a horse-drawn sled. The sled had straw serving as a cushion or mattress. The night was quite cold and though we wore our heaviest coats and scarves, the family also snuggled under a heavy quilt to help banish the cold.
I could not have been more than 4 or 5 years old at the time. I remember we sang jingle bells. That was when I learned the words sleigh and jingle.
I still remember how blue the night looked. Through the clear cold sky, the stars shone brightly and the moon’s reflected light bounced off the white snow covered, rolling hillsides allowing us to see the fences. A narrow woodland hid the creek whose normal babble was silenced by water now turned to ice.
Near the little farmhouse was a weather beaten barn where cattle and horses sought shelter at sundown. My father and mother read the birth stories of Jesus to me from the Bible. I first heard the story of the visit of the three wise men as mother decorated a cedar tree my father had cut from the woodlands. She held up a blue ornament that was concave on one side and contained a single silver star. She placed this ornament at a spot on the tree where I could see that ornament reflecting the light and imagined it glowed as brightly as the stars above on that December night we rode in the sled. At the very top of the tree mother placed a large silver and blue star that she solemnly declared was the star of Bethlehem that shone over the manger where Jesus lay on the night he was born.
I knew what a barn was like. I knew how warm it felt to lean against a cow. I knew what it felt like to lay on a pile of hay or straw. I had seen donkeys and sheep. It was not hard to picture Jesus’ birth place as being very like our little farm on a bright, snowy, December night.
Which brings us to this first trip of the holy family. Of all the dreams of Christmas, this one is the strangest even if it makes common sense. Joseph went to bed with his conversations with the Wise Men on his mind. What should he do? He was terrorized, for that was the way the Puppet King Herod ruled the land on behalf of Rome. Herod maintained control by a reign of terror. He had his own male children killed because he feared they might grow up and steal the throne from him by leading a rebellion. He feared Rome. He feared his own people and his own children. It was said of Herod, better to be his swine than his sons.
In the night, God spoke to Joseph’s mind in a dream. An angel said, “Get up and flee to Egypt. Herod is going to try to kill your child.”
To Egypt? Why such a long way? The recent history of the Mideast tells us why. During the last century there have been large movements of people across the Mideast borders of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Amenia, Palestine, Iraq and Iran as people attempt to escape civil war.
Some 1400 years before Jesus was born, the Hebrew people, perhaps a million of them immigrated from Egypt, not just once, but in waves over decades. They wandered in the desert of Sinai before arriving at what is modern day Palestine. Similarly, they had migrated from Ur of the Chaldeas, the site of Modern day Iraq to Palestine then to Egypt centuries before the Exodus from Egypt. The mass movement of people through the Mideast and internecine wars in that area has occurred throughout recorded history.