There are eight different narratives in the New Testament highlighting various aspects of the Nativity of Jesus. Most of these narratives are well known to the church, such as the angelic appearance to Mary, the shepherds in the field, the innkeeper, the magi from the east, etc. The one narrative which is not spoken of as often is, of course, the flight to Egypt. It is clear that Matthew’s account and his quotation of Hosea 11:1, “out of Egypt I called my Son” that part of the early understanding of Jesus’ childhood involves returning to Egypt as a “second Moses” and re-tracing the steps of Israel in their bondage to slavery and, eventually, their coming “out of Egypt” into the Promised Land. Jesus embodies the New Israel and so this is clearly the main theme of the narrative as given in Matthew.
However, there is another, subtler, reason for the trip to Egypt. Egypt was an arch-enemy of Israel and was responsible for their earlier slavery and bondage. It would be natural for Egyptians to see themselves as outside of God’s plan of salvation. Indeed, it must be a difficult thing to read the whole Exodus account if you are an Egyptian and you see yourselves as a part of that great and ancient civilization. However, God’s deeper plan for Egypt and the Egyptians goes back long before their enslavement of the Hebrews. At the very origin of God’s covenant with the Jewish people when he revealed himself to Abraham, he declared that “in your seed, all nations shall be blessed.” This promise was repeated to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Psalm 87 even enshrined in the worship of Israel the promise that Israel’s enemies, including Rahab (a poetic name for Egypt), Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Cush would all be regarded as “native born” members of Zion. This means that God would count them as his redeemed children—not even adopted children—but his children, because of the sheer expansiveness of his redemptive purposes.
The fact that Egypt, who once had enslaved God’s people, now becomes (through the flight to Egypt with the baby Jesus) the protector and the haven for the Messiah has enormous redemptive implications for all Egyptians. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate One, could never have been manifest to the world if not for the early protection afforded to the holy family through the Egyptians. They protected him from the wrath of Herod, who ended up slaughtering all of the babies in Bethlehem. Those babies became, in effect, the first Christian martyrs, rooting even the nativity story in the soil of pain and suffering. As Jesus became a refugee and entered into the pain of an arduous journey of over 400 miles, he was already beginning his mission of bearing the sins of the world. He was creating new narratives for those who doubt the reach of his redemption, and giving hope to all those who are disenfranchised. This lies at the heart of the nativity, which causes us to rejoice in this holy season.