The Egypt Years
I have heard and read the Christmas story multiple times every year since I was born. I should know it forwards and backwards in every gospel version. But there is a part of the story that I always forget and have never heard a Christmas sermon about – the Egypt years.
Shortly after Jesus was born, Joseph is told by an angel to flee to Egypt. So Joseph and Mary and little Jesus leave the city of their ancestors, their home, and become refugees in a foreign land. Scholars disagree about how long they were in Egypt – I have read everything from a few weeks to several years.
Lately, I have been pondering those Egypt years trying to imagine what life would have been like for the new Holy Family. I have been wondering:
- Where did they live? Were there rentals? Refugee homes? Did they stay with an Egyptian family?
- Could Joseph and Mary communicate with the Egyptians? What language would they have had in common?
- Was Joseph permitted to work in Egypt? How did he sustain the family there?
- How did the Egyptians treat refugees?
- Did they qualify for political or religious asylum? Was there such a thing?
- Was Jesus’ first food Egyptian food or Jewish food? Did he ever have to go to bed hungry?
- Did their family know where they were? Was there any kind of mail system between the countries?
I have also been wondering what this experience was like emotionally and spiritually for Joseph and Mary. They had both been through an awesome, miraculous, and I am sure bewildering year – angelic visitations, virginal conception, journeys across the country, birth in a manager, and visits from mysterious strangers. They had been promised great things by priests, angels, wise women, and magi from the East. Now they were living as probably poor refugees in a foreign land where they probably knew no one. Did they wonder if they had just imagined or dreamt up all those words of promise and miraculous encounters? Or did their faith remain firm in the things promised but yet to be revealed to them? Were they more focused on the “here” or the “not yet”?
I have been reading and writing a lot about “the Wilderness” in the last year. When thinking about the wilderness and Jesus, I had been focusing on his 40 days in the desert that so neatly parallels the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness. I had completely forgotten about this wilderness period in Jesus’ early life and the life of his parents. I am not quite sure what parallels I see yet but it has made Mary, Joseph, and Jesus feel more human and relatable to me.
Obviously with the global political and social turmoil of the last year, refugees have been more on my heart and mind as well. I hope there were some kind Egyptians who helped Joseph, Mary, and little Jesus survive those weeks or months or years that they were far from home. I hope that they experienced human kindness, generosity, and compassion during those years. I hope they experienced God through whatever makeshift community they found themselves in.
But mostly I hope I am extending kindness, generosity, and compassion to those who I meet and know who are living in “the Wilderness”. Literal or metaphorical, whether we are refugees or not, we are all far from home. And sometimes we just need a kind word or action or a warm meal to help us remember all the miracles we have already seen and keep us hoping in all the promises yet to be fulfilled.