Advent Reflection – Day 16

Usually we remember the massacre of the innocents after Christmas, but this year we’re remembering a little early. I sorted through classical images of the scene until I hit upon Leon Cogniet’s, painted in 1824, and I had to stop. It would be fitting to show (and you may see the detail that stopped me in my tracks here, but this scribe decided we can all imagine the horror just fine. Better to be confronted with a glimpse of “the world’s hope,” fragile as he seems here.

Who Says

While the innocents were being massacred who says
that flowers didn’t bloom, that the air didn’t breathe bewildering scents.
that birds didn’t rise to the heights of their most accomplished songs
that young lovers didn’t twine in love’s embraces
But would it have been fitting if a scribe of the time had shown this
and not the monstrous uproar on a street drenched with blood
the wild screams of mothers with infants torn from their arms
the scuffling, the senseless laughter of soldiers
aroused by the touch of women’s bodies and young breasts warm with milk
Flaming torches tumbled down stone steps
there seemed no hope of rescue
and violent horror soon gave way to the still more awful
numbness of despair
At that moment covered by the southern night’s light shadow
a bearded man leaning on a staff
and a girl with a child in her arms
were fleeing lands ruled by the cruel tyrant
carrying the world’s hope to a safer place
beneath silent stars in which these events
had been recorded centuries ago
– Julia Hartwig, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

“Flight to Egypt” by Ethiopian iconographer Amete Sellassie

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