On this last day of the Christmas season we are remembering that there was a great deal of suffering surrounding Christ’s birth.
Mary was socially isolated to the point of giving birth while basically homeless. Joseph was charged with the responsibility of protecting a baby with a price on his head. And hundreds of children were murdered because they lived near where Jesus was born.
James B Janknegt‘s painting of the little family travelling from Israel to Egypt, running for their lives, acknowledges the tension between the good news that the Messiah has been born, and the dreadful darkness that is trying to extinguish the light he brings.
If you are using this Advent in Art series to reflect on the biblical texts (today’s is Matthew 2:13-20), and especially if you are doing so with kids, you might like to identify and discuss or contemplate each element of this painting:
- Starting at the front and centre, at the beginning of the journey, we see Mary and Jesus on a donkey. Jesus was a toddler by this time (Herod was afraid of any baby up to two years old). Have you ever travelled with a toddler? What would it have been like for Jesus to move from Israel to Egypt with no time to say goodbye or get used to the idea?
- Look at all the different types of plants in the painting. What do they make you think of?
- What is happening in the field?
- How do light and dark work together in the painting? What does that tell you about the story?
- What do the statues and pyramids tell us about the journey?
Christmas is a time of mixed emotions for anyone who has lost someone close. At Christmas and other family occasions they are missed in a special kind of way. Other people will find their financial or social difficulties underlined or deepened at Christmas, or will feel far from home.
If there is sadness in the Christmas season for you, may this painting remind you that from the beginning of his life, Jesus experienced and understood the suffering that is part of being human. He came in solidarity with us and continues to stand with us, as one of us. There is a place for your pain in the Christmas story, and Jesus the Messiah is able to hold it for you.