Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’s life shortly after his birth describes how precarious life can be, not only for Jesus, but for all humanity:

“13 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.’ 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ … 19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene’” (Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23).

At any given time, people in seemingly every corner of the world are fleeing for their lives. Some flee war, some persecution, some famine, some abusive family situations, some economic uncertainty, some natural disasters, some boredom, some adult responsibility, some marriage, some their surrounding reality, some church, and so forth. People flee by relocating physically, psychologically, emotionally, religiously, and … One often hears in the news about refugees seeking shelter in other countries or shelter in a safe home or …

Another type of flight makes the news but less often. For decades now, people have been fleeing the church. Many congregations, once thriving, are now struggling. People are gone. Programmes are gone. Pastors are gone. At one point, the decline of smaller congregations was attributed to poaching by larger, mega-church congregations. That phenomenon has, however, shown itself to be of limited duration. In North America, people are now fleeing the church in all its manifestations, a situation rampant even longer in Europe.

The Holy Family in Matthew’s account was fleeing a real and present danger, namely King Herod who wanted to kill the baby Jesus. Countless others throughout history were and are fleeing real and present dangers. So, why are people fleeing the church? Where is the real and present danger? The answer lies in Herod’s desire to kill Christ. Herod viewed the baby Jesus as a real and present danger and sought to take Jesus’s life to save his own.

While some consider Jesus to be a saviour, for others he is a danger. In actuality, Jesus is both a saviour and a danger to one and the same type of person, namely sinners. King Herod wanted Jesus dead because Jesus posed a threat to Herod’s sense of power and thus to his very life. Likewise, sinners of any day and age want Jesus (and his followers) dead, not just when he, but because he represents a power and reality which calls their lives into question.

Sinners who consider themselves (by sinful nature) to be their center of their worlds, reject (by sinful nature) any and every challenge to their self-declared rule over their lives and environs. Paradoxically, churches which seek their own fortunes at the expense of the gospel, while initially attracting onlookers, eventually begin to push Jesus and his cross out the door. Churches without a saviour are, however, already dead, but the retention of some membership, large or small, disguises this fact.