When [the magi] had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-14 NABRE)
It is very easy, especially during the Christmas season, to romanticize the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Holy Family, as they would come to be called, have been featured throughout the centuries in art, music and prose. The flight into Egypt, in the above account, has been rendered in soft colors and strokes to correlate with Santa, angels with trumpets and the Three Wise Men on numerous galleries of Christmas cards.
Very little of the daily life and struggles of the Holy Family are documented in scripture, but the pressure that Joseph and Mary were under in this time of escape must have been enormous. The responsibility of making sure the child and his mother were kept safe as Joseph literally fled for his life (and theirs) would have been enough, but to stay in a foreign land and wait for an undetermined period of time would surely have required divine assistance. Though mysterious, the message of the angel was clear, and Joseph was obedient. God’s providence was made manifest in the middle of the “storm” of oppression experienced in Egypt.
Fight or Flight
One of the hardest things about relocating to another place, near or far away, is adjusting to new people, places and situations, and learning the lay of the land. While most of us don’t receive messages from God directly from an angel, we do have access to God’s throne through the Holy Spirit. Prayer is the essential first step in discerning God’s direction for us and then availing ourselves of His divine assistance. Unfortunately, we often embark on our “flights” from imminent threats before we hear the still, small voice from God within.
The term “fight or flight” is often used to describe the urge to do something in the face of danger. The term “haste makes waste” cautions us to move slowly and deliberately. A rush to get something done at the expense of the necessary foundational work will always place a strain on the finished product (if the project gets finished at all). Jesus addresses this truth in the Gospel of Luke:
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace. (Luke 14:28-32 NRSVCE)
Our Ultimate Happiness
As baptized Christians, we receive the Holy Spirit and the gifts of Faith, Hope, and Love to assist us in our quest to know and do God’s will. St. Paul explains in his letter to the Romans:
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:26-28)
As we make our way through daily life during the Christmas season, perhaps “fleeing” from real and legitimate threats to our safety and security, we can glean from the message of the angel to Joseph and from the words of St. Paul to the Romans, that our ultimate happiness and peace resides in discerning God’s will through prayer, and acting on the message we receive.