An Advent Message from Egypt

Matthew 2:13-15
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Mary and Joseph brought Jesus here to Egypt to flee the murderous decree from Herod, ordering all male infants under two years old to be slaughtered.

In the space of a few verses the Christmas story moves from the beauty of the new-born Jesus, the promised King of justice and peace being worshipped by a heavenly choir, to the evil actions of an earthly king ruling by fear, oppression and death. It's shocking, but sadly it's true and this Christmas many millions of people will not experience peace but rather oppression, injustice and war.

The story of the Holy Family fleeing to Egypt is cherished here by Christians and Muslims alike. Tradition says they travelled to many places and in Cairo you can visit a cave they stayed in which now has a church built over it.  Many Christians here will tell you that if you draw lines to join up the places the family visited, it will make the shape of a cross.

Matthew includes the horror of King Herod's rule in order to point to the cross. The Christmas story includes death, but it’s about Jesus coming from heaven to defeat the power of death and to bring peace. Matthew also includes this part of story to show that Old Testament prophecy is being fulfilled (v15) and to make another link to Egypt; Jesus will be like a new Moses bringing salvation for all people.

Advent is about the glory of God as he comes into this dark, evil world. He becomes vulnerable and weak as a baby, but he is the promised King who brings salvation, justice and peace. That is why we are here, living in this land. To make the truth of advent known. Whilst many know the historical story of the Holy Family visiting Egypt, they don't know Jesus is still here bringing love, salvation and hope.

A few days ago, we were on one of our frequent walks in an area where many would say Jesus can't be found, because it seems like a dark and poor place. But that is why we go, to pray and to bring light. We feel vulnerable and a little weak as we don't know anyone and our local language is very basic. As we walked, we waved to an older lady looking out of her apartment and she invited us into her simple home. We did our best to communicate in Arabic as we drank the fizzy orange drink she gave us. She seemed very happy that, although she didn't have much, she was able to host some friendly foreigners. Then downstairs in the street we met some other people and they invited us to a wedding a few days later. We accepted the invitation and when we arrived at the wedding party the street was lit up with bright lights, the music was turned up as loud as it could go and there were about 350 people gathering to celebrate the community event. Our new friends were amazed we had come and were honoured we had responded to their hospitality.

This is advent – stepping into another 'world'; overcoming language, religious and cultural barriers to try in a small way to bring light and love and show that Jesus is still alive in Egypt. After all, Jesus, the light of the world, went to a wedding. As soon as I finished writing this blog, our friend from the wedding sent me a message asking when we would visit him again and he used an Arabic word which means 'to bring light to him'.

This advent why not try reaching out to overcome barriers and bring light and love to others. And do please continue to pray for Egypt and the Middle East.