Advent Reflection 10: Yes, Jesus WAS a refugee

The final entry in my series of reflections based on ten of the greatest Christmas artworks of all time.

Merry Christmas to you all!



Artwork: Rest on the Flight to Egypt – Orazio Gentileschi, Birmingham Art Gallery

Reading: Matthew 2:13-23


This isn’t a very well known Christmas painting, but I really like it.

During their escape from the murderous King Herod, the holy family rests in what looks like a derelict building. Their donkey waits on the other side of a broken wall as Joseph takes a nap and Mary feeds her child. There are dark, foreboding clouds on the horizon.

The setting reinforces the appalling situation they find themselves in. Destitute, alone, and taking brief shelter in a ruin.

Orazio Gentileschi’s picture is a strange composition. But it beautifully portrays the utter exhaustion of the holy family’s hurried escape from Bethlehem. They look like a modern day refugee family fleeing Aleppo.

Joseph has collapsed in sheer exhaustion.

Mary’s feet are dirty and she appears too tired to even cradle her hungry child, who looks furtively in our direction.

Gentileschi obviously related to the refugee status of the holy family. He painted five versions of this picture. As a young painter he had become caught up in the licentious and violent world of fellow painter Caravaggio, who not only influenced his work, but led him into scandal. Gentileschi was sued, imprisoned, and disgraced. But the last straw was when one of Caravaggio’s circle of painter friends raped Gentileschi’s daughter, Artemisia.

Gentileschi fled to England where he relaunched his career, including painting this picture.

I can’t help but see his own world-weariness depicted in it.

It reminds us that Jesus was indeed a refugee, an important truth when we consider that we are living in a time with the highest levels of human displacement on record.

An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homeland. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.

There are also 10 million stateless people who have been denied a nationality and access to basic rights such as education, healthcare, employment and freedom of movement.

Jesus’ own displacement results in the fulfillment of prophecy, whereby the Messiah would be born in David’s city but also come out of Egypt.

But it also reminds us the church must be on the side of the poor, because God himself had chosen to side with the poor and defenseless.  Indeed God became one of them! Since it is clear that God had always favored the poor, it should also be clear that commitment to their relief and welfare should be our priority as well.



Our Father in heaven,

Reveal who you are.

Set the world right;

Do what’s best— as above, so below.

Keep us alive with three square meals.

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.

Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.

You’re in charge!

You can do anything you want!

You’re ablaze in beauty!

Yes. Yes. Yes.


Matt. 6:9-13 (The Message)

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The views expressed are my own and do not necessarily represent the official views of Morling College or its affiliates and partners.

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13 thoughts on “Advent Reflection 10: Yes, Jesus WAS a refugee

  1. Thanks so much for this series, Mike. I’ve really enjoyed following along and have gained much from your insights.

  2. What Sandy said. There’s been some good insights and perspectives in this series Mike. Blessings to you and your family over Christmas.

  3. Thank You Mike. Always interesting

  4. I have loved following your Advent Reflection. Thank you for all the work that went in to it for the glory of God.

    May your Christmas be blessed.

  5. Thank you for your kind words, folks. It ended up being more work than I’d originally imagined, but I did enjoy writing them, and I’m pleased to hear you found them encouraging.

  6. Thank you for new insights into an ageless story.

  7. I’ve loved this series, and as one advocating for refugees in Europe & Middle East, I am especially thankful for this last reflection. Merry Christmas to you & may God continue to bless through your ministry in 2017. Immanuel! Hallelujah!

  8. Thanks Mike for the series I read most of it. I gained so much insights from it especially in my preparations for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services.

  9. This is SO true!

  10. This is SO true.!!

  11. Loved this series. I incorporated it as part of my Advent preparations and was greatly encouraged and challenged.

  12. Thanks for this great series! Each of your reflections added new layers of meaning and have filled me with a sense of the peace, hope and joy of advent. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

  13. Here is a great post by Dave Andrews on refugees…

    ‘A Culture Of Love Versus The Politics Of Fear.’
    A lecture I will give at the Emmanuel Centre today
    To be human is for our hearts to beat with the desire to love and be loved.
    If there is a single universal rule of ethical human conduct recognized by the whole of humanity, it is that ‘we ought to love our neighbours as ourselves’.
    The greatest threat to our love of our neighbour is our fear of our neighbour.
    It is because many Aussies fear asylum seekers, we are unable to treat them the way we would like to be treated if we were seeking asylum ourselves.
    Aussies have a primal historical/hysterical fear of ‘boat people’ coming to our country and dispossessing us, because our forebears came to this country as ‘boat people’ and dispossessed the people who lived in this country before us, and we fear that the next wave of boat people may do the same to us.
    Aussie anthropologist, Ghassan Hage, says Aussies are afraid that if we took the land we live in, others may want to take it too. He says that Aussies have an underlying fear of revenge for the genocide our ancestors committed, de-colonisation by aborigines, and/or re-colonisation by migrants and refugees.
    That underlying fear has been exacerbated by the fact that so many of the boat people are Muslim. Muslims have lived peacefully in Australia for more than two hundred years, but when, on 9/11, the Twin Towers were destroyed so spectacularly and catastrophically, painful ancient memories of a thousand years of on-again off-again conflict between Muslims and Christians exploded into our public consciousness. Muslim boat people have been repeatedly represented as the precursors of an ‘Islamic invasion’. And, consequently, ‘as antisemitism was a unifying factor in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, Islamophobia has become the unifying factor in the early decades of the 21st century.”

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