First Sunday After Christmas

Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Luc Olivier Merson — oil on canvas, 28 1/4 x 50 1/2 inches, 1879.

January 1, 2022 Lectionary Texts — Year A
Isaiah 63:7-9 • Psalm 148 • Hebrews 2:10-18 • Matthew 2:13-23

View Lectionary

Image description: The realistic scene is a vast desert landscape, perhaps along the sea judging from what look like two waves hitting a shore off in the distance. It is night, though all is quite well lit. Exhausted from travel, Joseph lies sleeping on the sand next to a small campfire which emits a single thin stream of smoke. A tethered donkey next to him forages a patch of grass in the sand. A saddle sits by the stake. Not far away, Mary and a brightly illuminated baby Jesus peacefully slumber in the nook of a large Egyptian sphinx statue. The sphinx gazes up into the dark sky where a few stars can be seen.

So let me remind you of the Eternal’s enduring love, and why we should praise Him. Let me tell you again how the Eternal gives and gives and gives. All God’s wonders and goodness are done for Israel’s benefit according to His great mercy and compassion.
Eternal One: Surely, these are My people, and they will be true to Me. My children will not try to deceive Me.
And indeed, God became their Savior. And when they suffered, God suffered too; and the messenger of His presence acted to save them. Out of enduring love, compassion, and concern, God Himself rescued them. Through all those years long ago, God picked them up and carried them through.
— Isaiah 63:7-9

After the wise men left, a messenger of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.
Messenger of the Lord (to Joseph): Get up, take the child and His mother, and head to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you it is safe to leave. For Herod understands that Jesus threatens him and all he stands for. He is planning to search for the child and kill Him. But you will be safe in Egypt.
So Joseph got up in the middle of the night; he bundled up Mary and Jesus, and they left for Egypt.
— Matthew 2:13-14

Romantic as it is, artist Luc Olivier Merson provides for us a welcome variation on the classic Western depiction of Joseph leading the donkey carrying Mary and Jesus on their late night trip from Israel to Egypt. Merson was intrigued enough with this subject that he painted four different versions of it (two more are featured below) — each differing in the lighting.

The Isaiah passage references God’s rescue and even the assistance of a messenger. I like Merson’s painting in that it provides us a realistic-ish vision of such a rescue. We have a practice of turning the stories around Jesus birth into adorable vignettes — Rest on the Flight into Egypt pushes back. Merson presents a family in exhaustion. The way Joseph’s arm rests across his head hints at the stress of the ordeal: fleeing at night, extensive travel and nothing prearranged for their arrival in Egypt. I remember traveling with my children when they were small — even with much preparation the journey was challenging.

Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Luc Olivier Merson
Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Luc Olivier Merson, 1879.

Practicing Visio Divina:

  1. View the artwork
    What do you see?

    Note shapes – color – style – movement
    What stands out for you?
    What are you curious about?
    What questions do you have?
    Hold back any feelings – judgments – opinions
  2. Read the accompanying scripture and look over the artwork again
    What connections do you make?

    Between the image and text?
    What is coming to mind from your own experience?
    What feelings are rising in you?
    Are you uncomfortable with something?
    There are no right or wrong answers
  3. Read the scripture again and explore the artwork a third time
    What do you hear?

    What is God saying to you?
    What do you wish to speak to God?
    What blessing or prayer is rising in you?

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