Flight to Egypt

This is the fourth part of my meditation on the Nativity. It will also be the last on this topic. In the next installment we’ll take a quick detour through Jesus’ childhood before spending substantial time on his public ministry.

King Herod was livid. He had met a few days earlier with a group of astrologers from the East, so-called Magi. They reported seeing a star that, according to their charts, revealed the birth of a new King in Israel. Arriving in Jerusalem, they had been brought to Herod, the current King of Israel. He welcomed them and inquired about their journey.

“In the western sky, the heavens revealed a new thing!” one of them exclaimed. “A King has been born! A King who will rule over Israel!”

Another said, “We followed the star so that we may worship the child!”

While Herod was gracious to these strangers, he was not happy about their message. However, he wanted to keep them happy in order to get as much information from them as possible.

The travelers were treated to a special feast before being sent on their way to continue following the star.

“When you find this child, return to me with a full report. I, too, wish to see this new King and worship him,” Herod charged them.

Days later, reports came to Herod that the Magi had left Israel secretly. No one crossed Herod! He had killed one wife and several of his own children! The great Caesar Augustus had once remarked that it would be better to be one of Herod’s pigs than one of his sons. Who did these damned foreigners think that they were? All of Jerusalem was on edge because of the King’s rage. Herod considered himself God’s anointed King. After all, he had built up the Temple and made it the envy of the whole world. His building projects were unrivaled in the Roman empire. How could God allow something like this? In Herod’s world, there was only ONE King!

Someone would pay for this. He would send a clear message to ANY would-be usurpers. A message that would not be quickly forgotten.

Meanwhile, in Bethlehem, Joseph had a dream. In the dream an angel warned him that Herod was sending soldiers to kill Joseph’s new son.

“Flee! Go where Herod cannot find you! Go west to Egypt!”

Joseph woke soaked with sweat and his heart racing.

“Mary! Wake up! The Lord sent a warning! We must leave here! NOW!!!”

The young family packed quickly and found a group of merchants going to Egypt. When they finally arrived, they found a community of Jews where they were welcomed. Joseph was especially welcomed. A good carpenter was always needed. Mary, Joseph, and the young Jesus were comfortable and safe there. But, it was not ‘home.’

As they were on their way to Egypt, Herod’s forces arrived in Bethlehem. They went from door-to-door and put all boys who were two years old and younger to the sword. Herod made sure that he would have no rivals.

A few years later Joseph was again visited in a dream. The messenger told him that it was safe to return to Israel. Those who had plotted to kill the young Jesus were now dead.

Joseph packed up his family and traveled back to Israel. But, because of fears about Herod’s successor, Joseph took the family to Nazareth rather than back to Bethlehem.


As I reflected on this story I felt the fear and anxiety that Joseph, Mary, and Jesus experienced. We in this culture can’t truly understand what it’s like to pack up all of our belongings and run for our lives. They went from a comfortable home with family and friends to refugee status over night. I sensed, though, that both Mary and Jesus had a deep trust in Joseph’s leadership.

So many historiographers portray Jesus as somewhat immune to ordinary emotions such as fear and anxiety. He is shown as a person who is in  total control, rather than a normal child. For these writers Jesus would certainly not trust in a mere human! He had a hotline to God! Yet, the stories in the synoptic Gospels show a human side to Jesus. I can follow someone who understands life as a vulnerable person. He was a child who depended on his parents for his life and well-being. He was a real person whom I can relate to.

However, not everything about this meditation was easy. I had a very difficult time with this story. God had sent a messenger to Joseph to warn him of Herod’s plan. There is nothing here that would indicate that Joseph knew the lengths to which Herod would go. I don’t think that he would have run away without warning others if he knew that Herod was going to kill all of the young boys. And, if Joseph would have warned others, why didn’t God? They could have taken their children away until Herod’s anger cooled. But, that didn’t happen. How many children lost their lives in this massacre because God neglected to warn them. Did God not care? These are the kinds of hard questions that people ask. And, for many, or most, the answers are wholly inadequate. Who could swear allegiance to and follow a God who would allow such an atrocity?

I asked the Father, why? Why were the parents not warned? I sat quietly waiting for some kind of response. Eventually, I got a ‘reply.’ I did not hear any audible voice. I can’t say with certainty that ‘God said…’ This was all taking place in my mind. But, according to Albus Dumbledore, that doesn’t mean it’s not real.

What I heard was, “Do you really believe that I would do that?

Whoa! What? You’re saying that the story is not true? If not, why did the writer include it? Did he add this simply in order to use the Jewish Scriptures to add some kind of credibility to the life of Jesus? He wrote about Rachel’s wailing and how God called his son out of Egypt. Both plot points that this story makes possible.

In the light of what I’ve learned about God over the last several years and the response noted earlier, I must view this passage as a literary device. It appears that the writer, 1) Did want to tie the passages in the Jewish Scriptures to show that Jesus was, indeed, the Chosen One of Israel, and 2) To show the utter depravity of Herod. And, by extension, the entire Herodian culture.

We can dismiss the historicity of this passage. But, we cannot cut it out of the text. Regardless of what we may think, this story is part of the inspired canon. What we can do, however, is put it in its place under the feet of God.

I’m fairly sure that Ignatius wouldn’t approve of where I’ve gone with this. But, it is impossible for me to attribute the massacre of innocent children to the loving and merciful Father that I know. Nor, can I ascribe some abstract notion of sovereignty and authority to this.

The God that I worship would NOT be complicit in such an act…PERIOD!

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Jesus is Born!

This story is pretty much the same as one I posted a few years ago when I experienced the Spiritual Exercises for the first time. I edited some things to better suit what I experienced now and added some comments to the end of it.

Entering, we greeted those already gathered. “Shalom! Baruch hashem Adonai!” “Peace! Bless the name of the Lord!” Unpacking our donkeys, we noticed that there were a lot of people already present. It seems that the whole clan had answered Caesar’s demand that we return for this census. Joseph helped Mary up to the living quarters while I got fodder for the donkeys. As I turned to climb the stairs I saw Joseph gesturing angrily.

“No guest room?! My wife is going to give birth at any moment! You must make room for her and the child!”

“No, we cannot. There are too many people. We cannot have one room given to her alone.”

“Wait,” one of Joseph’s aunts said. “We can fix a place for her down below. There is plenty of fresh straw. And, we can put blankets down to help make her more comfortable.”

Mary, being young and new to the family looked at Joseph and nodded. She was already suspect, being pregnant already. She did not want to give the family any more reason to look down on her.

Evening came. Mary was having contractions every few minutes. One of Joseph’s aunts acted as midwife. They made Mary as comfortable as possible.

Joseph was upstairs with the rest of the family. He was pacing the floor. One cousin scolded him, “Sit down and relax! Everything will be fine. This is not the first child ever born!”

But, everyone knew that many first pregnancies did not end well. Especially, when the mother was as young as Mary. In addition, both Joseph and Mary were anxious about the child. That strange man that had appeared nine months ago had said some very strange things about this child. As the birth drew near, the young parents wondered what kind of creature this was that was about to enter their world.

It seemed as though Mary had been laboring for hours. A final push, and the child arrived! With a cry, the child took his first breath. The midwife lifted the child and tied off the umbilicus.

“It’s a boy!”

Joseph gave a sigh of relief. The others began to pour bowls of wine and a party celebrating the birth of a first-born son began. They sang and danced and drank. When Mary was cleaned up and the child wrapped in clean cloths, Joseph was summoned to come down. He looked compassionately at Mary. She was so strong and brave…no longer a child. Joseph reached into the feeding trough in which his newborn son had been laid. He picked him up and lifted him toward heaven.

“My son, Yeshua!”

A little later I looked up and saw a small group of people entering the house. By the staves that they were carrying I could tell that they were shepherds.

“Who let this rabble in?” I thought. Shepherds were not usually welcome among respectable people. They walked over to where the child lay sleeping.

“We were out in the field tending the sheep. Suddenly, there was a great light in the sky! We feared that something was going to take our sheep and harm us! Then, we heard a voice saying that a child had been born…here…in Bethlehem. The voice said that this child is the Messiah who we have been waiting for!”

Another shepherd spoke up saying, “Then there was a great host praising God! They gave God glory and said that peace was to reign between God and those whom God favors!”

We poured bowls of wine for the shepherds and continued to celebrate throughout the night.

However, Mary had a puzzled look on her face. She said nothing!


As I reflected on this story, I wondered what my takeaway from it would be. Ignatius had encouraged us to see what ‘spiritual benefit’ there was. Yeah, there was the miracle of birth. But, that had been done for millenia. There was the worry and waiting. Again, not new. Even the shepherds showing up wasn’t that all unusual. Just some run-of-the-mill guys showing up to pay respects to the new parents.
Then, I realized something. This WAS my takeaway. What makes this so special is that it’s not all that special!
Ok, ok…I hear y’all whispering out there. I can see the looks on your faces. “What do you mean, not special?! This was Jesus’ birth! That makes it not only special, but unique.”
Yeah, I get it. But, let’s take a moment to think about it.
Yahweh, the God of god’s desired to show love to the world. God wanted to break down barriers and establish ‘table fellowship’ with us. What better way to do that than to join with us so that we can join with God?
This story reveals that the Son of God is just like one of us. Shoot! He IS one of us! He didn’t come down from some lofty mountain like some hero of old. He didn’t appear out of a cloud or flame. He didn’t come walking up out of the sea.
He was born from a woman…just like us. He had a family that loved him…just like us. He grew up in a specific culture in a a specific place and time.

  • JUST LIKE US!

I thank God for this! We have a Savior who, in every respect, is just like us. This Jesus had the same experiences that we have. He had the same wants and needs. He knew what it was like to be loved and accepted. And, he knew what it was like to be hated and rejected.
And, it all began with a simple birth, just like ours.

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From Nazareth to Bethlemhem

This is part two of the Nativity meditations. This one is about the journey that Joseph and Mary took from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea for a census that Rome had decreed. Part one is here.

It was early spring in Galilee. The early rains had been good and the crops were beginning to break through the surface of the rich earth.

Joseph made arrangements for he and Mary to travel to Bethlehem in Judea. Judea! All that way just to make Rome happy.  What a pain! It was one of the busiest times of the year for the young carpenter. Plows and tools needed to be fixed. There were carts and wagons to prepare. And, there was talk of rebuilding the town of Sepphoris about 4 miles north. But, is any time really a good time for Rome’s nonsense?

Mary wasn’t looking forward to the trip, either. She was nearly to term with her firstborn. Childbirth was hard and dangerous for any woman. It was especially so for a girl barely beyond childhood herself. She would be leavingf her family and the other women who had supported her throughout the pregnancy.

“Take plenty of towels and clothes.”
“More blankets would be better.”
“Don’t let those ‘men’ tell you how you feel or what you need to do!”

Mary would miss them hovering over her.
So much to remember! So much to do!

Joseph put Mary into the cart he had arranged. She could not walk that great distance. And, riding a donkey? Not hardly in her condition! The pack animal was laden with the food, water, and other essentials they would need. Joseph said goodbye to his friends and led the animals down the road.

At the edge of town the young couple met the person who had helped make the arrangements. He was a short man with a gray-flecked beard and a quick smile. He looked like the typical person who didn’t do ‘real’ work for a living. But, he had a gift for bargaining and had an eye for details.

“Hello, my friends!” he called to them. “The soldiers are here and the others from Capernaum will be along shortly.”

The soldiers were from a local Roman garrison. Several of them were going to new assignments in Judea. The man had talked with a Centurion and arranged this trip so that his group could have the added protection. Although the trip would not take too long, the road was fraught with danger. There were bands of thieves and Zealots who had no problem robbing and killing unwary travelers.

Joseph and Mary had traveled South many times for the festival at Jerusalem. They joined with family and friends to sing and dance.  The events of that night so many long years ago were remembered. No, more like reenacted.  Their ancestors had sacrificed lambs and sprinkled some of the blood on the door posts and lintels of their homes in Egypt.The angel of death then ‘passed over’ those houses. It was a time to celebrate and remember that God had chosen them for God’s own people! And, for the children? The trip was a great adventure!

This time was different. There was no celebration to look forward to. Joseph was now a responsible adult. He was about to become a father!

The afternoon Galilean sun was brutal. So, they traveled during the cool mornings and evenings. Progress was slow. Mary had to stop often to ‘relieve’ herself. Pregnancy was not all fun and games! The soldiers mocked that Jewish woman with the weak bladder.

“C’mon woman! We don’t have all day!”
“Carry a bucket!”

As these men laughed and mocked, Joseph and the others did their best to hide their hatred for these invaders. Yes, they brought a kind of peace to Palestine. But, at what cost? Their freedom?

The caravan followed a road that went through Samaria. They could follow the main trade route and pick up the road from Caesarea Maritima. That would take them to Jerusalem. From there it was only a few miles further on to Bethlehem.

At night they would stop and make camp. Several small fires sprang up. Clay pots clanked as they were brought out for the evening meal.  The women began to prepare the meal while the men tended to the animals and made up the camp.

The soldiers moved off by themselves. Joseph could hear their coarse joking and laughter.

After they ate and cleaned up, someone lead them in saying the Shema. Another began singing one of the Psalms of Ascent. Those sacred verses that had been sung by countless pilgrims on their way “up” to Jerusalem.

As they turned East on the road to Jerusalem, Mary started to worry. A few times along the way she had experienced pains and cramps that told her the child was becoming impatient. Some of the older women noticed and stayed close to her. This road was no place for a child to give birth to a child!

The caravan finally arrived at Jerusalem. There were people everywhere! Shops were open and the keepers stood outside calling to any who would listen.

“Come in! I have the best and purest oil for your lamps!”
“Chickens! I have chickens that are the tenderest and tastiest anywhere! Hey! You travelers! Come and buy! These will sustain you on your journey for many days!”

Some  said goodbye to the young couple. They had ancient roots here. The soldiers also went off to the garrison near the Temple mount. Joseph and Mary turned to the road that would lead them West out of Jerusalem then South to Bethlehem.

Soon they saw the town. Although it was small, Bethlehem boasted of being the burial place of their ancestor Rachel. She was the beloved wife of the Patriarch Jacob. It was also the hometown of the greatest King to ever sit on the throne of Israel: David! Oh, to have a King like him again! Not some lackey like Herod. That half-breed was nothing but a Roman puppet.

In their hearts, every person in Judea and Galilee hoped and prayed for the day when Adonai, the Lord, would raise up the promised Son of David. This Messiah King would return Israel to its former glory and strength.

“Hear, O Israel…”

Joseph took Mary and the cart to the center of town. He saw a well and a few shops. He inquired about the location of a certain family, relatives of his. Someone directed him to a small home near the edge of town. When they arrived, Joseph called out, “Shalom! I am Joseph bar Yakov! I have come with my wife for the census!”

A man came out looking rather put out at this interruption. His gray beard matched the scowl on his face.

“Joseph? Son of Jacob? I know a Jacob who had a son who was a little brat! Always chasing the animals and making a nuisance of himself. But, you! You are a grown man! How can this be?”

“Uncle!” cried Joseph.

A big smile broke out on the old man’s face and the two men embraced and kissed. It had been a long time, nearly a year since they had seen each other.

Joseph helped Mary climb out of the cart and presented her to his Uncle Elihud. Others flowed out of the house and a great welcome was made.

After many hugs, kisses and slaps on the back, the young parents-to-be were taken into the house and upstairs to the living quarters.

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