We’ve been celebrating Christmas, and when we do that in the church we always talk about the birth of Jesus, with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus and the shepherds and the wise men. For us, a lot of times, that’s where the story ends. But for Mary and Joseph and Jesus, the story did not end there at all. The story was just beginning. And what we just read tells us the next chapter of that story, with Mary and Joseph taking Jesus and going to Egypt, literally running for their lives.
And every time I read this story, I’m struck by how matter-of-factly Matthew tells it. An angel appears to Joseph and tells him to take Jesus and Mary and escape to Egypt to get away from King Herod. Joseph does it. Then, after a while, we’re not told how long, maybe up to three years, the angel appears to Joseph again and tells them that King Herod is dead and they can come back. And they do. No big deal.
No big deal if you’re just reading the story, anyway. If you actually had to live the story, the way Joseph and Mary and Jesus had to do, it was a pretty big deal. Think about it. They were in Bethlehem. They’d gone there thinking they’d be gone a few days, maybe a week. That was all they’d packed for. They’d left everything else--their home, their furniture, their animals, Joseph’s carpentry tools, anything else they might have had--they’d left all that at home, just like you or I would.
Now, they’re being told they cannot go back and get it. They have to go now. Immediately. They cannot even wait until morning. They quickly pack up everything they can, get Jesus situated, and take off, in the middle of the night, headed for Egypt. Depending on where they went in Egypt, they traveled about three hundred to three hundred fifty miles. On foot. Maybe they had a donkey for Mary and Jesus to ride, or maybe they did not, but Joseph certainly walked it, and Mary may have. Three hundred miles or more, on foot, carrying a baby. And always keeping an eye out for Herod’s soldiers, who they’ve been told are looking for them to kill their son.
And after they got to Egypt, what? We don’t know if they could even speak the language. Whatever money and provisions they had were almost certainly used up on the trip. They had no place to stay. They had nothing to buy or rent a place with. Maybe they found someone they could stay with, or maybe they stayed in a cave or something. Maybe they simply slept out in the open.
Somehow they survived in Egypt. Maybe Joseph was able to use his carpentry skills to find work. After all, it seems like someone who can work with their hands is always in demand. Maybe Mary was able to do something to bring in a little money. We don’t know what they did. But somehow, they survived. And then, they were told it was time to leave Egypt and head to Nazareth.
At least this time they were able to pack. But again, they probably walked the whole distance. And to go to Nazareth was even farther, about four hundred miles. And this time, they had a toddler. Jesus might’ve been old enough to walk on his own part of the way, but I’ll bet they had to carry him a lot of the way, too. And he’d have been a lot heavier at age two or so than he was when he was a baby. Again, it’s possible that they might’ve had a donkey, but we don’t know that. It was a long and hard trip.
The point is that God did not make Joseph and Mary’s lives easy in the first few years of Jesus’ life. You would think that if God was going to make life easy for anybody, it would be for the earthly parents of the divine Son, Jesus Christ. But that was not what happened. God protected them. God made sure they survived. But it was never easy for them. In fact, most of the time, it was really hard. We should not let the matter-of-fact way Matthew summarizes those first years of Jesus’ life keep us from realizing how very hard it was for them.
And a lot of times, that’s how it is for you and me, too. There are a lot of times when God does not make our lives easy. Sometimes God does. I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me over the course of my life. But a lot of times, God does not. God will help us. God will help us survive. But God often does not make it easy for us. In fact, a lot of the time, it can be really hard.
But through all their hardships, Joseph and Mary kept trusting God. We’re not told about their reaction to the things the angel said. Maybe they were upset, maybe they were disappointed, maybe they were scared, maybe all that and more. We don’t know how they felt. The Bible does not say.
But we do know what they did. They did what the angel said. They obeyed God. They trusted God. They had no idea what they’d find in Egypt. They had no idea how long they’d be there--after all, they did not know how long King Herod would live. They had no idea what they’d find in Nazareth, either--after all, they’d been gone for years. But every step of the way, they did what they were told. They trusted that God would protect them and take care of them. And of course, God did exactly that.
And God will do that for us, too. There are times when we have no idea what will happen if we do what God wants us to do. But if we can trust that God will take care of us, God will do exactly that. It won’t always be easy. But in the end, things will work out for us, just as they did for Joseph and Mary.