“Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” The words of the angel in Joseph’s dream tip off the family entrusted with God’s son that they must flee Bethlehem. They must protect the child by running for their lives.
It is fitting to consider the cost of opposition to the kings of this world on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. A worldly king, desperate to maintain power, will not only strike at a perceived threat, but kill any number of innocents just to ensure his position.
Meditating on the Flight into Egypt teaches us how to respond to cruel opposition with grace. The flight is given only only a few verses in Matthew’s gospel, but taking it to heart in the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows, its tragic truths may be contemplated through Mary’s trusting heart.
Ironically, the Child the king would destroy has already twice entered the Jerusalem temple which Herod could view from his own palace. When Jesus was eight days old, Mary and Joseph had taken him there to be circumcised. Forty days later, they went to the temple again at the time of Mary’s purification to present him to God. The poor little family had been right under Herod’s nose had the king known what to look for.
At the presentation, the holy Simeon foretold that the child would be “a sign of contradiction” and that a sword would pierce Mary’s own heart. Mary knew tragedy was in her child’s future, and hers. But so soon? The king wants him dead before he’s out of diapers? Other mothers would lose their own baby boys because of him?
The virgin mother became a refugee forced to flee from her own country and go to Egypt, the land of her ancestors’ slavery. Her heart ponders the words of the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation: “He shall be great, and shall be called the son of the Most High.” She remembers of her three month stay with Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist. The angel’s words: “for with God nothing shall be impossible.” Angels announcing the child’s birthplace to shepherds. Magi from the east find him by a following a star.
Avoiding Herod by returning home by another route, the Magi have enraged the king, whose pride of place he must maintain at all costs. Simeon’s voice: “This child is set for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against.” God will protect him until his appointed time. Blessed be the name of the Lord. He has shown the strength of his arm. He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted those of low degree.
Saints have seen in Mary’s heart a calm trust that the child will be safe until God’s appointed time, not the king’s. They have seen a heart whose only care is the tender protection of a mother: to keep her child warm, fed, hidden.
We honor this mystery by recognizing the dignity of innocents forced to run from tyrants today. Their flight may be filmed and publicized. It may be hidden, waiting for one of us to recognize Christ in the stranger.
We may also recognize our own “flights” from those who oppose our faith. Christ told his followers “when the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.” In fearful times we may seek Mary’s intercession to help us trust in God’s providence as she did on the flight into Egypt.
Here are two songs exploring this mystery:
Run, Mary run. Run, Mary run. The king wants to kill your baby son. “Run,” The Brilliance
Joseph took his wife and her child, and they went to Africa to escape the rage of the deadly king. “My Deliverer,” Rich Mullins
May we be granted the grace to recognize holy innocents in the here and now.