An angel of the Lord suddenly appeared
in a dream to Joseph with the command:
Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt.
Stay there until I tell you otherwise.
Herod is searching for the child to destroy him.
The dramatic story of the initial years of Jesus, our Incarnate God, is continued on this weekend after Christmas. From the time of the Maccabees, Egypt had been a customary place of refuge for Jews. An earlier example is Jeroboam’s flight to Egypt. Jesus is presented as re-enacting in his own life the career of Israel; for he is the new Israel!
Israel is the name given to the people of Yahweh – God. It seems that this name was first given to those believers in Yahweh who first left Egypt under Moses. The Holy Family’s departure to Egypt and return sets the stage for Jesus being considered the new Moses who has led humanity on a new Exodus – a departure from captivity to human weakness to the freedom that comes from living like a child of God. It is interesting to note that the departure for and return from Egypt was directed by an angel of God in the form of a dream given to Joseph. Just as the Old Israel had a dream about freedom from captivity, so in Christ the dream is truly fulfilled.
The warning given to Joseph in a dream explains why Jesus, although born in Bethlehem, was reared in Galilee and was known as a Galilean. Luke, which agrees with Matthew both on Bethlehem and Galilee, explains the relation of the two places in a different way: Joseph and Mary were originally residents of Galilee and were only temporary visitors to Bethlehem when Jesus was born. This entire story is heavily influenced by the Old Testament.
The tragic episode of the Innocents is mentioned in no other literature, profane or canonical; this raises serious questions about the historical character of the incident. So the events presented by Matthew possibly represent a symbolic presentation of the royal Messiahship of Jesus and the opposition of secular power to this Messiahship. The opposition finally achieved its purpose in the passion of Christ. This story represents what Christians understood about Christ!