On December 28, three days after we have celebrated Jesus’ birth, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents. King Herod had found out that there was a newborn king of the Jews from the magi, who were following the star and seeking this king. Herod ordered the death of all boys in and around Bethlehem who were two or younger to eliminate this threat to his position. They were the first martyrs, those who suffer death for Christ.
After the visit of the magi, Joseph was warned in a dream to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt. The Savior of the world became a refugee. The top pane depicts this flight. Joseph is looking back in fear. He has a hand on the reins of the donkey and his other hand seems to be urging the animal on. A sword representing the violence that he is fleeing is in the corner of the pane. Joseph is positioned between this threat and Mary and Jesus. God has established him as their protector.
Beneath the pane depicting the flight into Egypt is one depicting the Holy Family’s return. Joseph is now carrying an older Jesus and his manner expresses confidence as he gestures toward the town of Nazareth, which will be their home. He had been warned in a dream not to return to Judea and Bethlehem, since King Herod’s son was now ruling there. The color green in Christian art and iconography represents hope and life. The green in front of the town suggests Mary and Joseph’s hope for a new life in Nazareth.
There are millions of refugees in the world today fleeing the violence that has engulfed their homelands. Christians, including children, are dying as martyrs in many of these places. As we pray at the beginning of this New Year let us remember Christians and those of other faiths in the Middle East, Nigeria, Sudan and many other places who have had to flee for their lives. Let us also pray for courage for those who face death for their belief in Jesus.