Matthew 2: 13-15,19-23
Tony van Vuuren
This weekend we are celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of the Flight into Egypt; the Patronal Feast of the Archdiocese of Cape Town.
Through the Gospel reading we revisit the nativity scene after the Magi have departed, but now with the emphasis on Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus having to travel the sorrowful road of exile, in search of refuge in a foreign country.
We don’t usually picture the Holy Family as political refugees. But that’s exactly what they were. Jesus, even before he could walk, became a fugitive from the murderous jealousy of a corrupt ruler.
Unfortunately, the reality of refugee people is still very much part of today’s world. Millions of families still encounter this sad reality and we need to keep them in our prayers. In recent years there has been more movement of the earth’s people to find safety and a dignified life for themselves and their families than at any time in its history. The flow of thousands of refugees per day out of Syria and other zones of suffering in the Middle East shows no signs of letting up. For them the threat of death is a constant reality; as it was for the child Jesus being sought by Herod’s soldiers.
The celebration of Christmas is some six weeks behind us and we are well into what deems to be a difficult year in more ways than one. Has the Nativity story already lost its spiritual impact? Let me suggest a way of praying that may revitalize the story of the birth of Jesus and give it meaning for our lives.
Why not take another look at Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and, in prayer, enter into their story. They are the Holy Family but they are after all a flesh and blood family and let’s consider their situation when Jesus is born.
Start with the baby Jesus, an infant physically vulnerable and dependent on others for nurture and security. God through the mystery of the incarnation chose to enter our human world not as a full blown, powerful hero, but as an infant, totally dependent on others for his well being.
How does this truth affect our image and relationship with God? Can we relate to his vulnerability and dependence? Perhaps some of us have to rely on the help of others to get by? Do we resent our dependence on them, do we resent our weakness that requires help? Are we grateful though for the kindness of others? Especially within our families! Recall Pope Francis once asked us “to remember the 3 key phrases for a life of peace and joy in the family: excuse me, thank you, and I’m sorry.
Consider Mary, how confused and tired she would feel after the pain and discomfort of pregnancy, the long, harrowing journey from Galilee, giving birth in poor, makeshift surroundings; and then almost immediately having to endure another long journey with her child into exile. When she said yes to God she could never have believed it would be like this. It may be difficult to understand how readily Mary, God’s Masterpiece, accepted without question the sorrows that she was faced with.
Can we do that? Can we kneel at the foot of the cross at any time and accept and believe that Christ is our redemption? And then getup and carry our cross?
Consider Joseph the quiet man of the Gospels. What a sense of responsibility he must have felt for Mary and the baby. Joseph was willing to live by his faith in God’s promise, a man willing to take serious risks. It is Joseph who listens to his dreams and takes his family to safety, leaving his own life behind. A stressful time for this righteous man. It is Joseph who listens again and returns to Nazareth to begin a new life with his family.
What message does this aspect of the story have for us? Perhaps we feel that we personally are being threatened by an evil and are in danger. Maybe some of us are in a relationship that is not healthy, one in which we are being abused in some way, one that enslaves us and causes us harm mentally or physically. Maybe someone is struggling with an addiction. If so, then in this Gospel story God may be urging us to flee from this evil and start life anew.
Our reflection on the Holy Family in exile lets us also be drawn by the simplicity of the life they come to lead, on their return to Nazareth, for the next thirty years. No matter what the horrors and uncertainty of the time in Egypt were, the interactions among Joseph, Mary and Jesus, as he grew older, must have remained respectful and loving. It is an example that is good for our families; because whatever the circumstances, when the tough times come, and indeed they will, the shouldering of the problems can be done by all with love.
Let us try to imitate Mary; talking to our Lord, conversing like two people in love, about everything that happens to us, even the most insignificant incidents. Nor should we forget that we have to weigh those words and reflections, consider their value and see them with the eyes of faith, in order to discover the will of God; and if our faith is weak we must turn to Mary for guidance.
Revisiting the Nativity story through today’s Gospel may take on greater meaning and import if we look to the real life struggles of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. We are invited to live in hope, trusting in a God who is with us in every aspect of life. Entering into the scenes through prayer also means entering into the lives of fully human people, whose experiences can enable us to deepen our relationship with God, who is near us, with us and one of us.