Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, 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.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’
What if, as recorded in Matthew 2, when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus arrived in Egypt as refugees, they were separated by the Egyptian Border Patrol? Then because he was young and prone to the illnesses of infants, exhausted from his journey, dehydrated, and denied medical care by the Border Patrol; Jesus died. What if Jesus died? Where would we be today?
The decorations must come down. The purple and blues of Advent are no more. The bright greens and reds of our poinsettias and trees must be dispersed to the four winds. White is our color now. This is the color of grief, mourning, and death; for we are about to bury a child. An innocent child has died. Where the manger stood days before; the wood is being repurposed to build a tiny coffin.
The mother and father can only watch from a distance. They can offer nothing but their overwhelming sadness and grief. Their child is dead. Jesus, the name chosen and the word given, is no more.
Those who witnessed the miracle of birth are gone. In fear of their lives and unable to make the border crossing, the shepherds returned to their villages in the hills.
In the frenzy of the dark, among the whispered threats from death squads and gangs, the beauty ended, and the killing began. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled through the wilderness to a place of safety. Egypt was guarded, grand, and beyond the reach of those who killed children. This they believed.
They traveled at night. Darkness was the desert’s only blanket. Wrapped in the safety of its blank anonymity, they moved toward Egypt with other migrants. The rhythm of sleeping and moving was a delicate dance to preserve their limited supplies of food and water. On occasion, they met others eating east or south. Out of charity, they would offer them water and fruit. These days were rare. However, every day was frightening. Only when they reached Egypt would they know they were safe. The Egyptians, Joseph thought, would treat them fairly and honestly. He knew he was wrong.
Safety is such a meaningless word. Joseph is locked in a cage with other men. His wife is sitting in chains. This is for their safety. The Border Patrol cares about their safety yet they didn’t care about the safety of their son Jesus, who they watched die.
Jesus, the refugee child, died in their care. Christmas is over. It ended before it ever really began. Christmas funerals are hard. This one may be the toughest yet.
Richard Lowell Bryant