The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Emmanuel fleeing

Matthew's Gospel reveals a God who comes into creation for us and, with us, runs for his life

The Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel isn’t made of the sentimental stuff of Sunday school Christmas programs. It opens with a much starker scene. There are no shepherds. There is no host of angels praising God and singing. Instead, one lone angel dashes onto the scene with a desperate message: They are seeking to kill the child.

Flight to Egypt painting by Odilon RedonHerod, that puppet of Rome, that corrupt and debased pretender to the throne, has dispatched armed men to kill all the babies of Bethlehem, every child 2 years old or younger. He imagines that killing the children will protect his shaky claim to the title, King of the Jews.

As a result of the angel’s message, the baby is snatched from his bed, held tight in his mother’s arms as she runs for her life. The toddler’s eyes are big as he sees real fear in his mother’s eyes, in his father’s actions.

Imagine the child, growing up as a refugee, away from his family’s clan home. Imagine the day he asks why he has no cousins or aunts or uncles. Perhaps his mother can say nothing, but only looks down and away, silently trying to control her breathing. Perhaps his father simply leaves the room.

Perhaps, finally, they answer his question, weaving dread and terror into the story of the family’s purpose, the family’s hope, the family’s faith. Jesus must have asked. Jesus must have remembered the pained answers.

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