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Focus Text: Matthew 2:13-23
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
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.”
Scriptural Commentary on Matthew 2:13-23
One of the first things we hear about Jesus after his birth is his journey to Egypt. Jesus and his family become refugees, hiding among a people who were not their own, seeking political asylum for the sake of the child. The joy of Jesus’ birth is almost immediately marked by the threat of death and the killing of many other children. So the Holy Family flees to Egypt—recalling perhaps Jacob and his sons, who find refuge from famine in Egypt under Joseph, yet also depicting a perverse inversion, where the Promised Land is filled with death and the place of slavery provides safety. Surely there is no justice in Israel when their own king behaves like the Pharaoh, murdering innocent children in an attempts to eliminate anyone who might threaten his rule. But like Moses before him, Jesus will survive this killing of the innocents and come to lead his people out of bondage—even the bondage of sin and death.
Like Israel before him, Jesus will come out of Egypt, called to return home to the Promised Land (Hosea 11:1). Like Israel, his election and exodus are surrounded by fear, death, and mourning, but also by hope. The opening chapters of Matthew’s gospel, from the genealogy and birth narrative to the temptation in the wilderness and baptism in the Jordan, are filled with details and narrative cues which alert the reader to Jesus’ identity as Israel. He lives out their story and calling. He is the one for the many—the Messiah. Matthew, like the other evangelists, gives us little detail between these first years of Jesus life and his baptism as an adult. Yet, we can imagine Jesus hearing the stories of his people Israel, of their covenant and land, of their history of sin and forgiveness, and of their hope and promise of redemption and restoration and coming to understand that their story is his story and his destiny will be their destiny. In today’s passage we see how the shape of Jesus’s life and mission began even as an infant in the arms of a worried and vulnerable mother, fleeing with her child to protect him.
This story reminds us both of the circumstances of refugees and displaced peoples and of Israel’s story of suffering and hope, bondage and deliverance. As followers of Jesus we are also listeners to the story of Israel, because his story is their story. To listen to Israel—to hear her story—is to listen to the suffering of slavery, exile, and diaspora. Yet, it is also to listen to a story of God’s faithfulness in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness and God’s deliverance in the face of their persecution.
The story of Jesus and Israel compel us to be present and sensitive to suffering and to learn to be shaped in lowliness, weakness, and vulnerability. If the church is a people formed by the story of Israel and the mission of Jesus, we will come to recognize the call to identify with and care for the refugee, the immigrant, the exile, and the outcast. We will come to understand the importance of place, land, and home and the violence and uncertainty which accompany people forced to relocate or flee to a place which is not their own. We will also glimpse the faithfulness of God in protecting and delivering those who like Israel and Jesus are oppressed and wandering.
By Michael Burns, Duke Divinity School Intern
Worship Aids about Refugees
A Prayer for Migrants and Refugees
Compassionate God, make your loving presence felt to refugees and migrants, torn from home, family and everything familiar. Warm, especially, the hearts of the young, the old, and the most vulnerable among them. Help them know that you accompany them as you accompanied Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in their exile to Egypt. Lead refugees and migrants to a new home and a new hope, as you led the Holy Family to their new home in Nazareth. Open our hearts to receive them as our sisters and brothers in whose face we see your son, Jesus. Amen.
Prayer for Refugees
“Lord, no one is a stranger to you
and no one is ever far from you loving care.
In your kindness watch over refugees and exiles,
those separated from their loved ones,
young people who are lost,
and those who have left or run away from home.
Bring them back safely to the place where they long to be
and help us always to show your kindness
to strangers and those in need.”
(Source: New St. Joseph People’s Prayer Book, #331, Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1980.)
African Prayer for Refugees
O Brother Jesus, who as a child was carried into exile,
remember all those who are deprived of their home or country,
who groan under the burden of anguish and sorrow,
enduring the burning heat of the sun,
the freezing cold of the sea,
or the humid heat of the forest,
searching for a place of refuge.
Cause these storms to cease, O Christ.
Move the hearts of those in power
that they may respect the men and women
whom you have created in your image;
that the grief of refugees may be turned to joy,
as when you led Moses and your people out of captivity.
(Source: Peace and Justice Support Network of Mennonite Church U.S.A.)
Quotes about Refugees
Asylum seekers, who fled from persecution, violence and situations that put their life at risk, stand in need of our understanding and welcome, of respect for their human dignity and rights, as well as awareness of their duties.
~ Benedict XVI, Message for World Day of Migrant and Refugees 2011
Facts and Reflection about Refugees
- 2012 estimates place the number of refugees at 15.2 million worldwide.
- It is estimated that 80 percent of refugees are women and children with 46 percent under the age of 18 and 48 percent women.
- Internally displaced people (IDPs) are those who have been forced to leave their homes as a result of armed conflict, violence, or violation of human rights. Unlike refugees they have not crossed an international border, yet the struggle and injustice they face is the same.
- In 2011, there were roughly 26.4 million people displaced internally (within their country of origin) by conflict.
- According to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, over 14,000 refugees have been resettled in North Carolina in the past ten years.