After the visit of the wise men, things went down hill fast for the
holy family. This is a very dark page from their lives.


 

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying,
"Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt,
and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek to
destroy Him."

When Herod saw he was deceived by the wise men, he was
exceedingly angry. He sent forth and put to death all the
male
children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts,
from two
years old and under, according to the time he had
determined
from the wise men.

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet,
saying: "A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping
and
great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be
comforted, because they are no more."

When Herod was dead, an angel appeared in a dream to
Joseph
in Egypt, saying, "Arise, take the young Child and His
mother,
and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought
the young
Child's life are dead."

But when Joseph heard that Archelaus was reigning over
Judea
instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.
And being
warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into
the region of
Galilee. And he came and dwelt in a city called
Nazareth, that it
might be fulfilled which was spoken by the
prophets, "He shall
be called a Nazarene."
                                                Matthew 2:13-23 NKJV condensed


 

                                         Flight to Egypt

It seems the wise men had stirred up a hornets nest. In retrospect
and despite their expensive gifts, we all might wish they had never
come. Because the consequence of their search for the newborn
Messiah/King opened the eyes of Herod the Great to something he
didn't like. And would not permit. Herod, the deceiver, did not like
to be deceived. His anger exploded.

Nothing is so dangerous as supreme power combined with evil
intentions. The angel came to Joseph in a dream with instructions
to flee to Egypt and stay there until further notified. To flee means
to escape undetected. Joseph and Mary would have to figure that
out--how to conceal the baby, how to look innocent and blend in,
maybe how to travel in the dark, what to do when they feel
threatened or if the baby cries, and how to endure the suspense
of not knowing what lies ahead.

Unable to find the little king Jesus, Herod did the unthinkable.
He ordered the killing of all male children under the age of two
in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas! Thus the holy family
became fugitives in a foreign land and the families of Bethlehem
witnessed a very great tragedy, the slaughter of their infant sons.

Rachel was the beloved wife of the ancient patriarch Jacob, whom
God had renamed Israel. Symbolically, her voice spoke from her 
nearby grave as she mourned with the people of Bethlehem.  
Rachel, who had died in childbirth, beat her breast and wept,
refusing comfort, because her children were lost to this world.

What are we to do with tragedies like this! Innocent babies put to
the sword by a raging ruler. Families torn apart by grief and the
injustice of it all. Death, so cold and final. The smiles and babble of
their little ones gone forever. Nothing can be said to ease the pain. 
Amid such brutality, how can faith in the goodness of God survive?

The holy family, on the road to Egypt, would surely hear about the
killings. It will be an added burden they must carry. Jesus, welcome
to the real world! Yes, the real world where might makes right, people
are cruel, and life is so cheap you can murder a few thousand and
it doesn't even matter. Joseph and Mary must have wondered how
this could happen? They may have asked themselves," Are we to
blame?" 

Sadly, atrocities such as Herod's are not period specific. We, too, are
familiar with images of holocaust, genocide, ethnic cleansing, suicide
bombers, mass gravesites and massacres . Power still corrupts.
Human nature has not changed all that much, just the weapon of
choice and the rationale.  

We in America speak of post 9/11. Mary and Joseph had a "post" also--
post the slaughter of the infants. These were the formative years of
Jesus, the "age of innocence". That period of time between birth and
age 5 when nurture and environment are very important in developing
the way a child will perceive and respond to life. Jesus spent those
critical years in a stable, then at a house in Bethlehem, later on the
road fleeing for his life, and as a refugee in a foreign country. Such 
was life in this family where mother Mary was favored by God and
blessed among women! His father was a carpenter; I suppose
Joseph could apply his trade anywhere.

During those years, king Herod remained strong. He could show no
sign of weakness because he had made too many political enemies.
Then suddenly, the reign of Herod the Great came to an end; he died.
People cheered the news of Herod's passing, and Joseph had another
one of his dreams.

The holy family could go home now. But where was home? We first
met Mary in Luke's gospel, and she was living in the Galilean town of
Nazareth. When Joseph married her, they were required to go to his
hometown of Bethlehem to register for the census. Now, after an
absence of about five years, it sounds like Bethlehem in Judea would
have been their first choice. But according to Matthew's gospel, fear
of Herod's successor sent them back to Galilee and the town of
Nazareth. And so Jesus became a Nazarene, a word synonymous
with scorn. The reputation of Nazareth is summed up in the phrase,
"What good could ever come out of Nazareth"!

 

Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

 

Icebreaker: How many hands does it take to count the number of places 
           you've lived? Name the cities, states, and countries you called home.

 

Herod was a dominate character in the story of the wise men's visit. It's
ironic that such a destructive man could also be constructive in other
ways. He built beautiful buildings, even reconstructing the Jewish temple.
            How do you explain the contradictory dimensions of his life?
            Is it unusual for people to be a complex mix of both good and evil?

 

Scars. We all carry wounds from past experiences. Put yourself in the
shoes of Joseph and Mary.
            What kind of scars would you be carrying with you back to Nazareth?
            Do you think they should feel any guilt for the slaughter of the infants?
What are some events which changed your life? Maybe a war, an illness or
death, a failure or broken relationship, a political decision, or a family dispute.
            How have these events helped to shape the person you are today?
            Are you carrying scars from the past?   If so, how are they evident?

 

Chart the highs and lows of the holy family.
            What is at the top?   What is on the bottom?
            Where would you place their return to Nazareth?
Describe how your life has been a journey that includes both peaks and valleys.

 

How do you think the difficulties from Jesus' early years influenced  
            his life, his ministry or his teachings?
Jesus told people to depend on their heavenly Father, take one day at a time
and not worry. He taught gentleness and mercy.
            How do you think he learned these things?
In your own life, how did your pre-school years affect the person you are today?

 

Joseph was repeatedly guided by dreams.
            How and why do you think that worked for Joseph?
            Did you ever dream about something weighing heavily on your mind?

 

How does faith survive a tragedy?
            Give an example from your life when faith triumphed over evil or loss?

 

How would Mary and Joseph explain the events of his early childhood
to Jesus?
            How might their story have sounded?

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