The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew 2:13-23
“Out of Egypt have I called My Son.” These are the familiar words spoken by the prophet Hosea and quoted here by St. Matthew the evangelist. Let’s take a moment to think about these words.
It is no stretch of the imagination to say that there was not a Jew living at the time of Christ who would’ve understood this verse. They would have thought of this verse as referring to the exodus out of Egypt that was led by Moses.
The Jews who lived at the time of Jesus had no conception of God having a Son. They had no idea that this was a reference to the long awaited messiah, the Holy One of Israel. The more time we focus on this verse the more we are amazed by the grace of God.
Can you imagine the relationship that the Jewish people had been privileged to have with God? They had been released from bondage in Egypt and in Babylon. They had lived in the wilderness for 40 years. They had captured their promised land. They had seen great and wondrous miracles for generations. They had seen the building of the Temple. They had been given a king according to their hearts desire. They had received the laws of God in order to have lives of purpose. They had heard the words of numerous prophets who reminded them of their duties before the Lord.
After all that we have mentioned, it is hard to believe that the response from the Jewish people to all of God’s love, mercy and kindness was not simply to ignore it….it was to deny it. When God sent His ultimate gift, His own Son into the world, He sent Him directly to His own people. The people He had raised up by His own might. The people He had saved, the people He had freed, the people He had loved. It was therefore reasonable to assume that the Son of God would be safe among the godly Hebrew people. But these words “Out of Egypt have I called my Son” became words of condemnation. They are a reminder that in an instant God can turn reality on its head.
Throughout the Old Testament, Egypt is seen as the enemy. It was not an act of God, but 10 acts of God that freed the Jews from their slavery in Egypt. So after all of this, when the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream, there can be no doubt that Joseph was speechless. How could they go back to the land of slavery? How could he willingly take his family into the heart of Egypt?
Through the Ethiopian and Coptic traditions we are told that the Lord and his family spent about 3 years in the land of Egypt. To this day one can take a pilgrimage and tour many of the places that were visited by the holy family. In a great turn of history, the Son of God found refuge in the land of Egypt. He dwelt among the people of Egypt. His family was treated with kindness and mercy. In that moment the people who did not know God became the people of God while the people who knew God in Israel became enemies of God. The one people who should have honored and revered and protected Our Lord Jesus, instead allowed a massacre in support of an earthly ruler. Moses had escaped out of Egypt, but the Lord fled to Egypt. Moses had been saved from the Egyptians but the Lord had been saved by them. It is no wonder that in Isaiah 19 we hear these beautiful words “Blessed be Egypt my people!”
In a way, each of us is a citizen of Egypt or Israel. Each of us is given a daily opportunity to show our allegiance to Jesus Christ. This allegiance is not based on who we know or who our blood relatives may be. Not even because we have been baptized into the family of God. We show our allegiance through acts of mercy and kindness to others. We show our allegiance to Christ by never compromising our faith for earthly wealth, or to please an earthly ruler or any other temptation that comes our way. It is quite possible to be an Israelite and find yourself an enemy of God. It is likewise possible to be an Orthodox Christian and find that others who do not know God in the way that we know Him, still serve God with more love, and more dedication than us.
It all comes down to the priorities of our heart. Our priorities become our goals and in order to reach those goals we will most certainly develop habits. If I am in the habit of doing what is best for me, myself and I….I may find that it becomes easier to push Christ out of the equation. In a way it becomes easier to exile Him out of our heart. Through my daily choices I can say “Lord, you are not welcome in the land of my heart.”
On the other hand, if I find ways to lose my will in obedience to the Lord, I might be surprised to find that I become like Egypt. Through prayerful obedience I can create a safe refuge for Christ in my heart. In time I can become a place for Christ to grow and be nurtured and in this way I can become a true part of God’s people.
And Glory be to God forever AMEN.