Advent Midweek 2
Jesus, Born to Be God’s True Son, Israel, for Us
Jesus is fleeing. He flees not for Himself, but for us. Christ fled the slaughter of Herod to keep His holy life until the fullness of time, when He would take the punishment for our sins. Christ fled to bring forgiveness to the land of Egypt, which once enslaved Israel. He fled that He might give us faith who often flee. He flees not through weakness but that weakness might become strength.
Yet this weakness must have brought sorrow to Mary and Joseph. The visit of the Magi of Persia gave them joy, a joy reflected by the richness of the gifts of the Magi to the child. But their joy dissolved into fear when they learned that the Magi had attracted the attention of murderous Herod. The angel says, “Flee! Flee this very night. Take the child and His mother out into the dark and make for Egypt. Save the child from Herod. Don’t turn back to gather your cloak. Go now!”
Joseph could have questioned the angelic messenger, “What do you mean, ‘flee’? I thought you said that this child was to save His people. Why should we be afraid of Herod then? Why should we flee from his wrath? If this child cannot save His mother and me, why should we think that He could fulfill the promise that He would save His people? If He cannot save Himself, how can He save others?” Yet Joseph said none of this. He, accepting the Word of the Lord, left that night, without being certain when he might be able to return to Judea with his little family. What sorrow this must have brought the Holy Family.
The Holy Family is not unlike our own. Our lives, too, are punctuated by joy and sorrow. No life is always joyful and happy. No life is always sorrowful and bad. The Christian is seeking to make sense of both the joy and the sorrow. Often the sorrow sent by God in bearing the cross leads to greater joy through growth in faith and confidence in His mercy (Psalm 126:5).
So it was for the Holy Family. Yes, Mary and Joseph sorrowed over an “unplanned” pregnancy. Yet, when the Lord told them what this meant, Mary with faithful acceptance whispered, “Let it be to me according to Your word” (Luke 1:38). When directed to take his family to Egypt that very night, Joseph did it. What they didn’t see was the bigger picture. They had only a slight idea of why God was doing all this. They had the messianic hope of course, but, like all of us, Mary and Joseph only made sense of their sufferings in retrospect; Mary “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
The bigger picture is what matters. If the Holy Family had not fled, Jesus would not have gone into Egypt to reclaim the nation that expelled holy Israel at the time of the exodus. The land of the pharaohs, the land of slavery, would have been left to languish in the shadow of death. Instead, the Messiah returns where God was rejected and comes to a people that shut its heart to His servant Moses. The land where the water ran blood red was now to be cleansed by the Son of God, who would shed His blood for that cleansing. The land was purified when the foot of the Son of God walked its fertile valley and its burning desert sands. The horror of the night flight from Herod’s slaughter dawns into a glorious day of salvation for a land mired in darkness and the shadow of death. The Wisdom of God, who became incarnate of Mary, trumped the wisdom of Egypt. The Christ Child had visited the land of the Gentiles. Often, our sorrows lead to the dawning of the light of Christ among us.
In sorrow, Jacob had long ago gone into Egypt for salvation from famine (Genesis 46). He would settle there for “only the Lord knows how long.” He was no more certain of the time of his return than Joseph. Yet, he was certain that God would fulfill His promise to him that he would inherit the land promised to Abraham and to his seed forever. So certain was he of his inheritance from the Lord that he gave instructions that his earthly remains were to be laid to rest with his fathers, Abraham and Isaac. He would go up out of Egypt even if in a funeral procession. Jacob, like Joseph, walked by faith.
The Lord built Jacob into a great nation in Egypt, and that nation took his God-given name. His sons became Israel. Moses led the sons of Israel out of Egypt by passing through the Red Sea on dry ground. And four hundred years after going down into Egypt, the nation of slaves went up out of Egypt to take possession of their inheritance from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The people left behind ruthless enemies and hardened opponents of the Lord, whose bodies washed up on the shore of the Red Sea, drowned by the Lord. They were left to their frog-faced gods of wood for salvation.
But God’s heart still yearned for fellowship with those who hated Him and sought to thwart His ways and destroy His people. He still loved those who served the frog-faced gods of the Nile Valley. The Lord was not done with these depraved worshipers of other gods. He would not abandon them to death and darkness. The Lord was going to do all He could to bring new life into the valley of the shadow of death and light to the land of darkness. He sent His own Son to Egypt.
Jacob went into Egypt a free man and Jesus returned as the servant of all. Jacob went because he had no choice. Jesus went though He could have chosen not to go. He had come to do the Fathers will. Israel, who was subject to none, became subject to Pharaoh. Jesus, who was master of all, fled before Herod. He who would save all people refused to save Himself. He trusted Himself to His heavenly Father, who used the humble means of His earthly family to rescue His Son. He became the new Israel, the perfect case of “déjà vu all over again.” He has done all things well.
Just as Jacob went down into Egypt to become Israel, the Son of God went down into Egypt for the same reason. But when Israel was called out of Egypt, Israel was reluctant, a skeptical, a rebellious subject. It failed to be what it was called by God to be, but wandered in the wilderness following its own blinded dictates. God had rescued it. Now it was going to find its own way. The people rebelled against Moses and, having been rescued from the tyranny of the frog-faced gods of Egypt, created their own tyranny in a calf-faced god. The Egyptians were certainly not going to have anything over the Israelites! They salivated for the flesh-pots of Egypt and choked on manna sent by God.
Jesus, who went down into Egypt, was called out of Egypt as the true Son of God. He returned as the truly faithful Son where Israel once rebelled, wandered, worshiped false gods, and starved. He had come to do the will of God. He had come to walk in the ways of the Law. He had come to be the very bread from heaven. He Himself was manna made flesh. He was the thirst-quenching water from the rock, so that whoever drinks of Him will never thirst.
He takes Israel’s desecrated mantle and becomes the Son whom God loved. In this way, He becomes the remaking of Israel in His own person. He is the substitute for all Israel. He incorporates into Him all who believe in Him. We who believe have become beloved sons of God, the true Israel. We, who pass through the Red Sea on dry ground by Baptism, become incorporated into Him who is the true Israel and, sharing in His exodus, enter the Promised Land with Him. We cross the Red Sea of death in His path from Egypt, where once the hard-hearted pharaoh and all his soldiers were drowned. Now, however, He leads all of Egypt in triumphal procession through the water, leading them on from death to life. He is leading captivity captive, that we Gentiles who died with Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen might be led through dry ground unto life in Him. Egypt, who once expelled Israel, now follows the new Israel through the water that makes all, both Jews and Gentiles, Israel in the beloved Son whom God called out of Egypt.
Jesus flees into Egypt that He might lead many sons out of Egypt through the Red Sea on dry ground. He flees that we might not. Jesus is born to be God’s true Son, Israel, for us.