The Flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15)
This scene starts with the Magi departing Bethlehem and the angel warning Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt lest Herod kill Christ. It is symbolic that the Magi did not return to Jerusalem but went on to Persia instead. Babylon is often represented in the Bible, especially in Psalms and Revelation, as a place of sin. It was to this place that the Magi were commissioned as teachers to redeem the sinful land. A similar redemption occurs in Egypt which, together with Babylon, was described by St John Chrysostom as the most ‘burnt up in the flame of ungodliness’.
That Christ sent the Magi to Babylon and Himself and His mother to Egypt shows the mercy of God working so that all people might be saved. This flight to Egypt also has symbolic significance, showing us how it was prefigured in the Old Testament. Christ going down to Egypt and returning was prefigured by the migration to Egypt by the blessed Jacob and his sons (Genesis 46) and the return of the Israelites to Canaan through the Passover (Exodus 14). It was also the fulfilment of the prophecy in Hosea 11:1, that the Son would be called out of Egypt.
The flight to Egypt also adds to our understanding of the struggles of Christ and the Theotokos, who had to flee as political refugees and suffer a journey of tribulation. St John Chrysostom says that we should have this as an example of how we should be prepared to suffer tribulation in the spiritual life. It shows us yet again how much Christ, the all-powerful God, humbled Himself and endured tribulation from persecution. It also shows us the virtue of Joseph, whose obedience led him to follow the angel without hesitation, fleeing that very night and remaining in Egypt until the angel told him that it was safe to return.
Source: Lychnos December 2018 / January 2019