When Jesus was born, three wise men came to worship him. According to Mathew, the men came from the East, and before they met Jesus, they went to King Herod and asked him, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?” When Herod heard their question, he was “troubled,” as he viewed himself as the Jews’ king.
Herod directed the wise men to Bethlehem, where the king’s prophets predicted the baby would be found. He also ordered the wise men to inform him when they found Jesus, so Herod could come “worship” the new King. Of course, this was a ploy–Herod wanted to find Jesus so he could kill him and eliminate the threat to his throne. The wise men (being wise) understood Herod’s plan and failed to return with Jesus’s whereabouts.
Herod was not pleased that the wise men betrayed him, so he decided to kill all the babies born in the Bethlehem metro area, an event that became known as the Massacre of the Innocents. Luckily for Jesus and his family, an angel came to Joseph and warned him about the impending danger. Joseph gathered up his family and fled to Egypt, where they received asylum. The family remained in Egypt until Herod died a few years later. They then moved to Nazareth, to avoid living under the rule of Herod’s son, who was by all accounts worse than his father.
There is nothing in Mathew about the family’s time in Egypt, but there are many interesting Coptic traditions associated with this period (the Coptic church originated in Egypt). These include a story about a tree that was worshiped by the locals as a god. In fact, the tree was possessed by an evil spirit. When Jesus approached, the evil spirit fled. The tree then bent down to worship Jesus. From then on, the tree was venerated by the people and possessed healing powers.
Interestingly, the Coptic view holds that the people of Egypt–who offered refuge to Jesus and his family–were “richly blessed” for their good deed. To me, this is a reminder that the helper often receives as much (or more) of a benefit than the person he is helping.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.