Advent 2020 is turning out to be a rather different kind of advent than many of us have experienced in years past. Both public and private celebrations have been much reduced to deal with the COVID pandemic that has cast a dark shadow over all the world. Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah relayed a promise of God that a light will shine on “those who live in a land of deep darkness.” (Isaiah 9.2) I can’t help but think sometimes that it is we who live in that land of deep darkness. I have spent some time recently meditating on a painting by Lue Oliver Merson entitled “Repose in Egypt.” The original is in the Boston Museum of Art; but I have it in the form of a framed poster that actually hangs on my wall during the whole year. But for me it has taken on deeper significance this advent.
The painting shows Mary and the Christ Child asleep in the hollow between the body and the right paw of the great Sphinx in the graveyard of the kings of Egypt. A halo of light illumines Mary and Jesus and a part of the face of the Sphinx. Further away, in the semi darkness, we see Joseph asleep on the desert sand and a donkey packed with their travel bags. Outside of that halo of light is darkness. There, in the graveyard of the pharaohs, is the little child Jesus and his mother Mary, resting after their escape from Herod’s soldiers who had been ordered to kill all male newborn children. Sheltered by the symbol of apparent strength -- the pharaoh and the lion -- is the apparent weakness of the baby Jesus who is the only source of light in the painting. It is a beautiful symbol of the way in which the light of Christ brings light to the darkness. The mighty powers and pandemics of the world cannot drive away the darkness of the graveyard, but the light of the Christ child can overcome the darkness of fear and anxiety with the light of hope and peace and love. “In him was life, and the life was the light of the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5) For Christians, light has always been a reminder of the light Christ brings into the darkness of the world. That is why there are so many candles and twinkling lights in our Christmas celebrations -- on the Christmas tree, on the roof, on the light poles of the city streets. May the love of God that became a living person in the baby in the manger fill you with the light of God's peace and joy in this Advent season! Pastor Nancy Becker Parish Associate