Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Matt 2:13
A considerable period separates the magi’s visit and Herod’s rampage from Joseph’s dream. Matthew uses the term pai-DI-on (paidion, paidivon) for all of the stories of the Christ-child including the return form Egypt. It is the common word for child or young person. Luke however, a bit more precisely describes the unborn child in the womb and the manger as a BREfos, brevfw” ( 1:41, 1:44, 2:12, & 2:16). The Christ-child is no longer a baby.
The escape journey to Egypt is not happenstance. The writer ties the saviour’s residence in Africa to a prophecy from Hosea 11:1. The instructive dream and the intervention of angels are not new phenomena. They continue as part of the heritage of believers. The Lord promised (Joel 2:28ff) to give dreams to his people and a host of experiences of the people God interacts are introduced by angels.
The Christ child quickly became a refugee. Mary got to move her family, while the mothers of the Bethlehem region would would see their treasures cruelly destroyed. The megalomaniac king Herod gave orders for every boy-child under two years old to be killed. It was a high price to pay for the saviour’s safety, but it shows that with all of heaven’s resources available the subjects of God’s regard do not always stand to fight and confront the threats.
The villages of the region became one mass of murder, mourning, and burial. Bethlehem and its surrounding villages and towns may have had a few dozen babies under 2 years old, but the deliberate murder of babies is also the topic of prophecy. Jeremiah records weeping in Rama for children by someone named Rachel. Putting the Hosea and Jeremiah prophecies together we get Rachel representing the mothers and Israel representing the Son of God, as is to say the nation laments the loss of children.
It may be that the word spread quickly and other male babes were saved, but the Christ-child was not to stick around. There might even have been people who would later remember the disappearance of Mary’s family coinciding with the death of Bethlehem’s babies.
The visit of the magi and the escape to stay in Egypt fill out the cosmopolitan environment in which Christ-child began life and set the pattern for association with the Saviour of the world and the cost of being a disciple. The pilgrim mold is cast even before he is unveiled at the Jordan by John the Baptist. Having such a turbulent beginning and living in different cultural settings prepares the Saviour for his mission. Salvation is free and its very nature yanks us out of our comfort zone and thrusts us into the life of a pilgrim whether or not we recognize the price paid by others for our seeking the king.