When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘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.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. 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. 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.’
I don’t know about you but whenever I read this passage from Matthew’s gospel I get a picture in my mind of 21st Century refugees. The haunted looks on the faces, the bundles of possessions, the bewilderment in the eyes of the children and the relief as they find some sort of shelter, albeit in a foreign land where they are uncertain about the sort of reception they will get.
Sadly, it is all too easy for us to envisage what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph and their precious son. However, I think the danger is that this account of their journeys from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth over an unknown period of time is set within the ‘fairy tale’ context of the birth of Jesus the Saviour of the world. A birth which is celebrated by many with tinsel and glitter and not a little fantasy.
It is quite hard work to move from that to think about the reality of the context and of the journeys. If we read the passage carefully we find that much of it is quite broad brush, making assumptions about the harsh experience whilst relating some minor and inconsequential details like ‘then Joseph got up’ (v21). And the question is, why bother, why not just skate over the surface and hang on to the fantasy? And the answer – because this is a story which takes us from the fantasy to the love which God offers to all. Love which walks beside us all in the pain and the joy of our daily living and which gives some of today’s refugees the confidence and the hope that God is with them in their harsh journeys.
That is the message we take into the New Year whatever our circumstances.
Loving God, thank you for your selfless love, for your readiness to walk beside us for sharing the pain for offering the hope of a new future as we make our journeys. Amen