When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,Matthew 2:13-18
sobbing and loud lamentation;
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she would not be consoled,
since they were no more.”
Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents on account of the newborn Christ exposes the brittleness of earthly power. Unlike the eastern magi, who followed a star to pay homage to the “newborn king of the Jews,” Herod considered the infant a rival to his throne.
In a sermon by Saint Quodvultdeus in the Office of Readings for the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Herod is brought to task for harboring jealousy and destructive fear in his heart. The Lord would have poured grace and peace into his life if he had opened his heart to faith.
From a sermon by Saint Quodvultdeus, bishop
A tiny child is born, who is a great king. Wise men are led to him from afar. They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth. When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.
Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.
You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers or fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children. You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart. You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life himself.
Yet your throne is threatened by the source of grace—so small, yet so great—who is lying in the manger. He is using you, all unaware of it, to work out his own purposes freeing souls from captivity to the devil. He has taken up the sons of the enemy into the ranks of God’s adopted children.
The children die for Christ, though they do not know it. The parents mourn for the death of martyrs. The child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself. See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king. See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the savior already working salvation.
But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious. While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.
How great a gift of grace is here! To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory? They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ. They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.
Joseph, flee to Egypt with Mary and the boy!
Herod’s hunting Hebrew sons, the Christ to destroy.
4 Replies to “Joseph, Flee to Egypt!”
Dear GMC, Your reflection brings to mind what Pope Francis says about the plight of innocents today: “Innocent children, women, and men die today likewise as they flee violence in their homelands. How do your deeds and words show respect for all these nameless holy innocents seeking peace and safety?” Again, our Holy Father calls us to prayer and action. As does your reflection as we pray and act to remove the destructive fear in our hearts. Thank you, GMC!
Thank you for your reflection, fdan. May the Lord transform our fear into love as we draw near to the Christ Child, Mary, and St. Joseph.
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” so said Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian, a prolific early Christian author and apologist from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. Tertullian’s truth comes ringing through time as we see religious persecution in many parts of our world.
Lord, protect the innocents suffering today. May justice prevail over evil.
St. Stephen and all you holy martyrs, pray for us! (Litany of the Saints)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
John 12:24, ESV