Search Tearm Friday: Repose on the Flight to Egypt

Here with the start of Advent the search terms "repose on the flight to egypt" brought someone to an Advent reflection I wrote about one of my favorite paintings, Luc Olivier Merson's Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1879):

I love Rest on the Flight into Egypt for a couple of reasons. First, the scene is haunting and full of fatigue. Joseph is asleep on the desert floor. One imagines his mental and physical exhaustion fleeing danger and trying to take his wife and baby across deserts to a foreign land.

And what awaits them at journey's end? Will they find friends in Egypt? Work? And when will it be safe to go back home?

Sitting on the Sphinx, in a striking juxtaposition and lending an exotic touch to the scene, is Mary and the baby.

And the baby. The only source of light in the painting.

What I like about Rest on the Flight into Egypt is how it depicts, from the very beginning of his life, the homelessness of the Messiah. God is a refugee, an immigrant, a stranger in a strange land, a person of exile.

I have always felt that Rest on the Flight into Egypt is metaphor for the life of the church. We should live as a people of exile, as strangers among the nations. All we carry across the wastelands of this earth is the Christ Child. We have nothing else to offer.

This note is echoed in John Howard Yoder's book The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited where he suggests that the church should model its existence after the Jewish diaspora. The church is to embrace a "cosmopolitan homelessness" and accept "dispersion" among the nations as a part of its "mission." The church is to embrace "galut as calling." Galut is a Hebrew word for the situation of living in a state of exile or homelessness. I think Rest on the Flight into Egypt vividly captures the experience of galut.

Yoder illustrates "galut as calling" by pointing to biblical models in the Old Testament--Joseph, Daniel and Esther. Joseph, Daniel and Esther each lived as exiles, as resident aliens. Each labored alongside the people of a nation to which they did not belong, each working elbow to elbow "seeking the welfare of the city" (Jer. 29.7).

We can add Mary and Joseph to this list while they lived and worked in Egypt with the baby Jesus.

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