Friday Facts: Lectionary A – Christmas 1

Friday Facts is a  weekly feature here on Trout and Cast Iron. Every week, I’ll read through the lectionary texts for the following Sunday in their original Hebrew and Greek. On Friday, I’ll choose one of the texts, provide a new translation, and highlight one point of interest from a linguistic, ancient history, or concordance point of view. The hope is that Friday Facts can provide a spark to preachers who find themselves preparing their Sunday sermon on a short schedule. 

Matthew 2.13-15

13 After they [the Magi] had gone away, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up, take the child and its mother and flee into Egypt and stay there until I speak to you. For Herod intends to seek the child in order to kill it.” 14 And getting up, he took the child and its mother and went away by night into Egypt, 15 and he was there until the death of Herod. This was in order to fulfill the utterance of the Lord through the prophet, which says “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Why into Egypt? Why not Syria or Asia Minor? Of course, first there are the religious reasons. As the quotation from the prophet Hosea (1.11) points out, the very core of God’s peoples identity is caught up in the exodus from Egypt. And so, Jesus, as the fulfillment of his people’s religious hopes was also brought up out of Egypt. There is an interesting resonance here with Luke’s account of the transfiguration. In Luke 9.31, Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus about his “exodus” to Jerusalem to die on the cross.

In addition, it is important to remember that Joseph was not taking his family and fleeing into the unknown. In fact, the Jews had a long history of settlement in Egypt, beginning with the destruction of Judea in 597 BC (narrated in 2 Kings 25:22-24). According to tradition, the prophet Jeremiah was among those who fled. After Alexander the Great founded Alexandria in the 4th century BC, it became the center of Jewish civilization outside of Judea. It was there that Jewish scribes translated the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, the book that we now know as the Septuagint. And so, when Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus set out for Egypt, they set out for a community of fellow ex-pats, so to speak. They probably didn’t camp out in a tent in the desert for several years, but lived among a people familiar  to them. It took a round about way to get that Jewish community into Egypt in the first place, but the upshot of this history is the knowledge that God provided familiar faces for Jesus and his family in their flight from danger.

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