In the world of religious iconography, the Nativity of our Lord Jesus is well represented. Of the many and varied iconographic representations, there is a common difference in portraying two perspectives of the human condition which stand out—either Blessed Joseph is with Mary at the cradle, or he is to the side, alone or speaking with an old man.
Icons are considered an essential part of church tradition and are given special liturgical veneration. They serve as mediums of instruction for the faithful by depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament in much the same way as a child’s picture book. While at first this may sound scandalous—to be compared to a child in need of pictures to explain things, but it is Jesus himself who told us that we must come to him as children, for that is what we are.
The icons depict church feasts, biblical persons, and sacred events. In the classical Byzantine and Orthodox tradition, iconography is not a realistic but a symbolical art, and its function is to express, through line and color, both the physical and the theological teaching of the church.
The icons of the Nativity call us to “ponder in our heart” what this Nativity might mean, and specifically, how we will live with it. Joseph is either depicted in blessing, bathed in divine light at the side of Mary and the Lord, or in conflict—the ‘old man’ who speaks to him is Satan.
How do you feel when you ponder these images? Where does the celebration of Christmas take you? You are not alone in this blessed time, and your heart and spirit, in blessed repose or isolation and conflict, are not separated from the Child who longs to be held.
We will always have our cross to bear, our burden to carry, but we also have our Savior who intercedes for us and takes our pain upon Himself. The Cradle and the Cross are one and the same; the arms of the baby reaching up are the are arms of the cross reaching down.
You are so loved and important and special—child of God.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! …let us love one another, for love comes from God… Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed." 1 John 3, 4; Isaiah 54
Father Bill Burk†