December 29th, 2019

SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS 2019

THE SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS 2019
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christ is Born!

So the celebration of the Birth of Christ continues. Today is the 4th Day of Christmas. Four calling birds. Today is also the Sunday After Christmas. On this day we celebrate the Righteous Joseph the Betrothed, David the Prophet and King, James the Brother of God, and the 14,000 Holy Innocents, the children slaughtered in and around Bethlehem. It means that the Gospel story continues, the narrative continues, and today’s Gospel lesson, from Matthew Chapter 2: 13-23, leads the way.

So, after the Magi left Bethlehem, the Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and instructed him to flee to Egypt with the newborn Babe, Jesus Christ, and His Mother, the Most Pure Virgin Mary. The Angel told Joseph to remain in that country until he was told to return, for Herod intended to "seek the young Child, to destroy Him." Saint Joseph arose, and "took the young Child and His Mother by night, and departed into Egypt." In his explanation of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Saint Theophylact of Ohrid asks: "How is it that Luke says that after the Lord was born, forty days (40) passed, and then He was held in Symeon's arms, and went to Nazareth; while Saint Matthew tells us that the Lord went to Nazareth after returning from Egypt? Understand that Luke speaks about things about which Matthew is silent. Luke says that after the birth, the forty days were fulfilled; then the Lord went to Nazareth. Matthew tells us what happened afterwards: that He fled to Egypt then returned from there to Nazareth. They do not contradict one another. Luke informs us of the journey from Bethlehem to Nazareth, Matthew of the return from Egypt to Nazareth, which took place later."

When they arrived in Nazareth after attending to their obligations in the Temple of the Lord, Joseph and Mary made arrangements for the safekeeping of their house. Then, taking everything necessary for the journey, they slipped away by night, without even notifying their neighbors as to where they were going. They also had with them James, Joseph's eldest son by his first, now deceased wife Salome. James, who would later be called the “Brother of God,” volunteered to go along as a helper. On the twenty-third of October, we chant the following hymns to Saint James from The Menaion: "The Lord chose thee, O wise one, to be His brother in the flesh His disciple, and an eyewitness to divine mysteries. Thou didst flee with Jesus into Egypt in the company of His Mother and Joseph; with whom do thou pray that we may be saved." The Lord fled to Egypt to show that He had truly assumed flesh and had truly become a man, and was not a spirit or a phantom. Saint Ephraim the Syrian asks in his Homily on the Transfiguration: "If Christ did not truly assume flesh, with Whom did Joseph flee into Egypt?" A second reason for the flight into Egypt was to demonstrate that we should retreat when faced with anger, and not proudly contend with others. According to Saint John Chrysostom, "When the Lord fled, He taught us to flee from wrath. If the Almighty chose to escape His enemies rather than to confront them, much more should we, the proud, retreat from danger." Besides this, the Holy Pope Leo the Great teaches that it was necessary that preparations for the mystery of the holiest sacrifice of all be made in that land where the first Paschal lamb was offered and where the Cross was foreshadowed. Finally, it was necessary that Isaiah's prophecy be fulfilled: "Behold, the Lord sitteth upon a light cloud, and shall come to Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be shaken at His presence" (Isaiah 19:1). Saint Ambrose understands "the cloud" to be the immaculate Virgin, who carried to Egypt in her arms the Lord, Whose presence caused the downfall of that country's idols. Truly, the Virgin is "a light cloud," for she is not weighted down by carnality, fleshly desires, or sin of any kind.

While Saint Joseph, the Most Pure Virgin, and the Divine Infant were journeying to Egypt, robbers stopped them in the desert, with the intention of stealing their donkey that carried on its back all of their meager belongings. One of the thieves, in fact their leader, noticing how beautiful was the Babe, marveled, exclaiming, "If God were to assume flesh, He could not be fairer than this Child!" Whereupon, he forbade his companions to harm the travelers. At this the Most Pure Theotokos assured the robber, "One day this Infant will reward you richly for having protected Him." That thief was the very same one crucified with Christ, to whom the Lord said, "Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise." When the robber died, the Mother of God's prophecy was fulfilled, and the Wise Thief received his rich reward.

After arriving in Egypt, the travelers found themselves in the Thebaid, approaching Hermopolis. Near the gates of the city, there was a very beautiful tree called "Persea," which, on account of its imposing height, the idolatrous people worshipped it as a god, offering it sacrifices. When the immaculate Mother of God and the Divine Infant drew near this tree, it began to tremble violently, and the demons who dwelt within it fled. Then the tree bent over in obeisance so its top touched the ground, thus professing to its Creator the adoration that was His due, and showing its respect for His Mother, the Most Pure Virgin. The holy travelers stopped to rest beneath it, sheltering themselves from the sun in its abundant shade. The tree thereafter remained bent, as a testimony to Christ-God's flight into Egypt, and its leaves acquired the power to heal all diseases. Later, the Lord, with Mary and Joseph, entered the city, and the first heathen temple they approached, with the idols in the building, came crashing down. This temple is mentioned in The Lausiac History, in which it is written, "We also saw in Hermopolis the house of idols, wherein all the idols that were in it fell to the floor upon their faces when our Redeemer entered." Likewise, when Christ and His Most Pure Mother went into a temple in the town of Siren, the three hundred and sixty-five statues in it toppled over. Throughout Egypt, wherever the Lord went, the idols fell and were smashed, forcing the demons to leave. Thus the prophecy uttered by Jeremiah to the pagan priests when he was in Egypt, and recorded by Saint Epiphanius in his Life of the prophet, was fulfilled: "When a virgin mother comes here with a child that was laid in a manger, the idols shall come tumbling down, and the gods made by men's hands shall be destroyed."

The Most Pure Mother of God and Christ remained for some time in Egypt, but it is uncertain exactly how long. In any case, they did not leave until Herod's death, as the Gospel says: "They were there until the death of Herod." After the massacre of the 14,000 children in Bethlehem, the wretched king perished miserably, and the Angel appeared again to Joseph in a dream, commanding him to return to the land of Israel, since they were "dead which sought the young Child's life." It turned out, however, that Herod’s son Archelaus was no better than his father, torturing and executing many. No sooner did he arrive in Jerusalem than he slew three thousand people. Likewise, on one of the great Jewish feasts, he slaughtered a multitude of citizens immediately in front of the entrance of the Temple. Eventually he was denounced before Caesar for his cruelty, removed from power, and exiled. When Saint Joseph, therefore, was visited by the same Angel that had appeared to him before, and was informed that the wicked Archelaus was ruler in Judea, he went to Galilee, where Herod Antipas ruled less brutally. Saint Joseph returned to his house in Nazareth and remained there with the Divine Child and the immaculate Virgin. Thus the saying concerning Christ the Lord "spoken by the prophets" was fulfilled, for they had foretold that He "would be called a Nazarene." Unto Him Who fled to Egypt for our salvation, Christ our God, be praise, honor, and glory forever. Amen!