By David Crosby, Pastor, First Baptist Church New Orleans
The birth of Jesus was truly an international event. The Wise Men came from the East. They were not Jews, but they knew about the birth of the king. Herod realized that this child could rise up to compete for his throne one day, so he initiated a search. And the Holy Family fled to Egypt, finding refuge there until the death of Herod.
The Coptic Christians in Egypt claim to be the oldest Christian group on earth. They trace their faith back to the visit of the Christ child and his family in this flight from Herod. They can take you to the house where tradition says Jesus lived. They have their own legends about the child Jesus.
The only reference in the Bible to the flight to Egypt by the Holy Family is the one that we have read in Matthew. But there are a lot of “false writings” or apocryphal accounts of this journey and stay. Palm trees bow down to the child Jesus. Beasts of the field pay him homage. Two men enter his life who will later be the thieves on the cross. Many such notions are contained in these writings.
There is a field of toppled and broken statues and idols in Egypt, I have read. At least some Coptic Christians believe that the child Jesus came into that place, and all the idols fell over and bowed down before him.
Local vampire author Anne Rice returned to the Catholic Church in 1998 and penned a novel about the child Jesus in Egypt based on these legends from Coptic Christians. The book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, is now being made into a movie, apparently, filmed in Rome.
I have never left behind all of my friends, family, and possessions and fled to another country in fear of my life. That’s what refugees do, and that’s what Joseph did with his family. The Holy Family traveled a predictable course from Bethlehem to Egypt that took them as long as two weeks. Traditional sites of their journey may be seen today in Israel. When they arrived they joined a large community of Jews living in Egypt at the time. A town near Cairo is the most likely spot for them to have settled in.
We do not know how long they were in Egypt. The guesses go from three weeks to several years. My guess would be several years, since King Herod died and his son took over during that time.
The Holy Family goes back to Nazareth. I will talk about Nazareth next week. For now, let’s think about the phrase, “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Hosea 11:1), a verse with a dual meaning, as Matthew points out. Moses and the Israelites were called out of Egypt, as a new movie depicts. And Jesus, following the footsteps of his forefathers, also was called out of Egypt.