I've written before about my favorite painting, "Repose in Egypt" but never about why I love it.
Peace. It has such peace, something I don't often associate with Christmas. And it's a Christmas scene -- Mary and Joseph and Jesus on the run from Herod.
Color. I first saw the painting in a book called Christ and the Fine Arts. It was in black and white but the description mentioned dark blues and purples. The internet was not yet what it is now, and it was awhile before I saw a color version. I was not disappointed.
Egypt. I've always loved Egypt, and love the image here of them sleeping on a sphinx. I learned when researching the painting that along with the Sphinx we know today, there were many other smaller sphinxes. This is one of those.
Until this year, that was it. But now something else has hit me. Song-a-day artist Jonathan Mann recently posted a song called. "Jesus Was a Refugee" (below). It's a song about the nativity, and how there was no room for them on the night of Jesus' birth. They weren't really refugees then, though. Outcasts, yes. Poor. But they were truly refugees on their flight into Egypt. So the song reminded me of this painting and that story, which picks up after the magi leave:
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
I look at that painting and see Joseph lying on the ground, and I get it. Maybe I relate to him more because Mary has the baby, but it's Joseph, clearly uncomfortable and likely with one eye open (I think that because his hand is up), who draws me into the scene. His peace is a sad one. There's a sadness and a tension, yet such power, in seeing someone choose the hard ground of God's will. I now realize the picture is not just beautiful. It's inspiring.
Fleeing persecution is part of our story. First from Egypt, then toward it. We have not been a comfortable people since Eden. Nor are we meant to be. Even when we're not fleeing, we're supposed to be going. Going into all the world. Crossing boundaries like language and culture. It's kind of our thing.
So if you're not fleeing or going, I hope you'll open your heart to receiving. There is no gift more humbling than a shared home. I know this from 15 years in ministry housing. If you can't open your home, at least open your country.
As Bob Goff posted today, "It's easier to take a position than to lay down our lives; don't settle for just having an opinion."
UPDATE 12-3-2015 Last night I saw the play The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and there's this scene where a kid is hearing the Christmas story for the first time. She says, "They sound like refugees." And the adult agrees that in a way, they were. So I yield to the artists.
UPDATE 4-25-2016 Well Bono says it and that settles it.
more from this series: Beyond Our Tribes