The Flight from Bethlehem

(Homily Holy Family Sunday)

Bottom line: Just as we accompanied the Holy Family in their journey to Bethlehem, so we accompany them as they flee that town.

On this Sunday between Christmas and New Years, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. This year, Holy Family Sunday comes quickly on the heels of Christmas.

The readings make us aware on another dimension of Christmas. Christmas involves much more than angels singing and a baby in a manger. Today we have a scene that can only be described as terror: a man awoken in the middle of the night, gathering his wife and small child to flee a psychopathic killer. Last week we joyfully accompanied the Holy Family on the road to Bethlehem. This week we accompany them as they flee that same town.*

Some early legends have come down to us about the flight from Bethlehem. One is a children's story: On their first night as refugees, they had gotten as far as they could from Bethlehem and found a cave to hide from Herod's soldiers. In the cave a spider saw the child shivering and felt sorry for him. To give some protection the spider wove a web at the cave's entrance. Herod's soldiers came to the cave opening. Joseph heard them and did his best to protect Mary and the child. When the soldiers came to the cave opening, they were ready to enter, but one of them said, "Look - a spider web. No one entered here recently." So they left. The next morning the spider web glistened with drops of dew. In honor of the spider web we place tinsel on our Christmas trees. It sparkles like dew on tiny threads. The tinsel reminds us that no good deed done for Jesus will be forgotten.

Like that tiny spider, you and I might have the chance to do something Jesus. Any time we welcome a stranger, we are doing it for Jesus. In our world there are 15.2 million refugees and some two hundred million migrants. In our own country, we have people who have come to us from terrible situations. No matter where a person stands on immigration, we should remember this: You and I are little people. Today we might have the opportunity to do something kind for a stranger - perhaps a migrant, perhaps someone in your own family, perhaps someone here in church. Like that protective spider's web, it will not be forgotten.

There is a second legend about the flight of the Holy Family. As Joseph led the Virgin and child along the coastal road, robbers attacked them. When one of thieves saw the child, something touched his heart. He said to his companions, "Do not rob this family." The others scoffed at him, but he held his ground. The name of that "good thief" was Dismas. He would meet Jesus thirty years later - but in very different circumstances. The authorities had finally caught with him and he twisted on a wooden stake. Next to him was the child he befriended - now a grown man. Dismas said, "Jesus, remember me," and he heard those beautiful words, "Today you will be with me in paradise."**

Dismas risked ridicule by standing up for Jesus - and now Jesus welcomed him into paradise. I will let you make your own application. We live in a society where it is harder and harder to stand up for Jesus - where we work, among our friends, in our own family.

It is good for us to reflect on the flight of the Holy Family. Like the industrious spider, we might have the opportunity to a do something kind for a stranger. Like the Dismas, the "good thief," we might win salvation by risking ridicule.

Just as we accompanied the Holy Family in their journey to Bethlehem, we also accompany them as they flee that town. Any kind act we do for a stranger, we do for Jesus. Amen.


*What lay ahead of them was hardly pleasant. Egypt was well known for its antagonism to Jewish people. Long ago the Pharaoh had enslaved the Hebrews and at the time of Jesus, the Jewish community in Egypt faced hostility from the dominant Greek population. Anti-Semitism did not begin with Christians. It has deep roots in the ancient world, especially the Hellenistic world. (In his History of the Jews, Paul Johnson has a summary of that important, but overlooked, aspect of Jewish history.

**The legends are recounted in William Barclay's commentary of St. Matthew.

Spanish Version

From the archives (Holy Family Sunday, Year A):

2013: Overcoming Bitterness
2010: The Flight from Bethlehem
2007: Honor Your Father and Mother
2004: The Most Diverse Family
1998: How to Avoid Bitterness

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Audio Files of Homilies

Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)

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Complete list of Holy Family Sunday Homilies:

2013: Overcoming Bitterness
2012: Obedience and Freedom
2010: The Flight from Bethlehem
2009: With Great Anxiety
2008: The Dignity of Marriage
2007: Honor Your Father and Mother
2004: The Most Diverse Family
2003: The Key to Family
2002: Saintly Seniors
2001: The Holy Family in Egypt
2000: More Important Than Family
1998: How to Avoid Bitterness
1996: You Are My Father

Parish Picture Album

(December 2010)

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru