Fight or Flight (Matthew 2)
Now when [the Magi] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, 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." (Matthew 2:13)
Many say that the strongest instinct is the fight-or-flight response. When faced with danger, two options are available. Do you fight? Or do you flee? The danger can be the same in many different situations, but the response may be different. Which one should you do? Should you stand your ground and fight for your life? Should you flee and "save your skin"? Many times we don't know the answer.
But St. Joseph, the earthly father of our Savior, doesn't have to ask the question. No doubt, the Magi had told Mary and Joseph about their visit to Herod. They knew it wouldn't be long before the murderous maniac would be after their son. What should they do? They knew Herod wouldn't be there that night. They could sleep on it and decide in the morning. Nothing like a healthy dose of procrastination. During the night, an angel appears to Joseph. A divine revelation to give the answer to the instinctive question. Were it all that easy! An angel appears and tells Joseph to pack up everything and move to Egypt. Flee for your life and the life of your wife and son!
Herod wants to kill Jesus. Herod feels that he's been played for the fool by the Magi. Herod's murderous rage has already seen its consequences throughout his own family. No wonder he wanted to kill the Christ Child! He was the "newborn King of the Jews" the Magi had come to worship (v2). Herod wants to make sure that no one can question his authority as the king of the Jews. Herod would never see Jesus. He only knew that He had been born some time in the last two years (v16). He knew He was born in Bethlehem. Jesus should still be in Bethlehem. Augustus' census hadn't finished yet. So he sent his soldiers into Bethlehem with orders to kill every boy two years old and under. This "newborn King of the Jews" wouldn't survive. No little baby boy was going to escape Herod's wrath.
Herod didn't know who Jesus was, but he knew that Jesus was a threat. Because Jesus was born, many innocent little boys in Bethlehem would pay the price. The Church around the world commemorates these "Holy Innocents" during the Christmas season. They were killed because Jesus was born. They were truly innocent. Not because they were born without sin, but because they died for reasons that had nothing to do with them. They died because of Jesus. And that's the irony. Jesus was born to die for them!
The slaughter of the Holy Innocents caused great mourning in Bethlehem. Great mourning as when Jacob and his family mourned when Rachel died in Bethlehem after giving birth to Benjamin (Genesis 35:16-20). She wouldn't be comforted because she died. She couldn't fight it. Her life fled from her. The parents of these boys refused to be comforted after their sons were slaughtered. They had no chance to flee. Even if they fought against the soldiers, they were outmatched by the battle-hardened soldiers. There was no chance to flee. How can you be comforted after something so heinous? Only by the comfort only Christ can give (John 14:27). Comfort He gives as He returns from His flight to fight for them.
Joseph took his family into exile in Egypt, just as the angel told him. After a while, the angel appeared to him again, just as he promised, and gave Joseph the "all-clear" signal. Herod had died. He no longer sought to kill Jesus. The murderous rage was over. Jesus was safe to return to Bethlehem. Jesus fulfilled Hosea's prophecy, "Out of Egypt I called my son" (11:1). Jesus fulfilled Israel's history with His own Exodus from Egypt. He is Israel reduced to One. Jesus came out victorious over Herod's murderous rage. Jesus returned to His people. Jesus returned to the land of Israel to save His people. Coming back from His flight into Egypt, Jesus is ready to fight for His people. It is still many years before His ministry starts, but His entire life was a fight against the devil, the world and the temptations of the flesh. He fought by His teaching, His example and His death.
Jesus taught against the sinful corruption the Pharisees and Sadducees had made of the Christian faith. This fight couldn't take place in Egypt. The fight had to happen in and around the holy city of Jerusalem. The city where God caused His name to dwell. Where God had His Temple built so that people could come and worship Him. Where He could live with His people. Where He would die for His people.
Herod's son, Antipas, would help to succeed where his father failed. Herod the Great sought to kill the baby Jesus. Herod Antipas held court with Jesus during His trial before Pilate. He didn't seek to kill Jesus. He was curious about Jesus. He wanted to see Jesus perform a miracle. He wanted a magic show. But Jesus fought against Herod's desires. Jesus fought against everyone who spoke against Him by not saying a word. Jesus fought against death and Satan as He was nailed to the Cross. He suffered the full wrath of Hell's punishment. He fought and gave up His Spirit. He went into exile in the grave.
But Jesus didn't stay in the grave. On the third day, He came out of exile even from the grave. He rose from the dead to prove that He has the power over death. He has overcome death and the grave. He has opened the gates of Heaven so that all may enter. Those who call upon His name receive the great gifts of His fighting against the devil, the world and our sinful nature. He had no sin of His own to die for, so He was able to die for yours. He came out of exile, fighting for your soul. He fought and He won. He won the war so you might be strengthened to fight the battle.
Jesus helps you fight the battle, but He also relieves you of the struggles of your life. Many times in life, the biggest struggle is persecution. Persecution like that of the Holy Innocents. Persecution not because of what you've done. Persecution because of who--and whose--you are. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:10). You are persecuted because you have been declared righteous. Being righteous by Jesus' decree, you act differently from the world. The world can't stand the difference. The world doesn't like the difference. "The Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works are evil" (John 3:19). Evil, dark deeds loom against all who walk after the Light. You, dear Christian, walk after the Light. Evil, dark deeds loom against you. And it's not your fault.
Jesus relieves your persecutions through the word of His promise. The ever-vigilant promise of the "now, not yet." The promise that your persecutions are taken care of now, but the full realization will not be seen until we reach Heaven. We have it now, but we don't realize its totality yet. Persecutions last throughout your lives as you strive to keep close to your Lord. Persecutions take place as estrangement from family and friends. Diseases that ravage body and mind. Episodes of doubt and depression. These persecutions are yours because you are Christ's. And He releases you from them through His precious death.
On top of your persecutions, Jesus takes away your sins. Sins like that of Herod's murderous rage. The Holy Innocents were not born to die for Jesus. Jesus was born to die for them. He was born to die for Herod. He was born to die for you. He was born to take away your sins. He suffered your death. Your punishment for all your sins. Your Hell instead of His Heaven. Taking all this upon Himself in His birth, He gives you everything He left behind. Everything that was created for you to enjoy from the very beginning of Creation. Your sin has been removed. No matter what you have done, you may come to Jesus in repentance and receive the forgiveness of your sins. Not a "it's alright". A "no record will be kept of it ever happening." It has been blotted out of history by Jesus' blood. As far as Jesus is concerned, it never happened. All that is left is His righteousness left on you in your Baptism. His blood, shed for you on the cross, cleanses even the deepest stain of sin out of your soul. You are clean and whole once again in His sight after receiving Absolution. Jesus has taken away your sins.
The Holy Innocents, by many respects, were "untimely born" (1 Corinthians 15:8). They died because of when they were born. Nothing they did, but all because of Jesus. Their deaths. Your life. It's all about Jesus. The Jesus who was born to die for you. Amen.