Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

WE MUST REMEMBER THAT AN ICON DOESN'T TRY to do what a camera would have done, were cameras in existence centuries ago. Icons connect us to the things of heaven - to eternal time. Clocks and watches don't figure when we're standing before an icon. That's why in the icon of the Nativity here, there are lots of pieces or elements of the story conflated into one image. 

It's a wonderful thing to spend earth-time just looking at the Christmas icon. Silence might be the best prayer. Sort it out yourself first. Feel the wonder in it, enjoy the colors and the details, be pleased for the seeming invitation to enter the scene.

During the Christmas Octave (eight-day festal overflow) we'll quite literally zoom in to one or another element of the icon to ponder it together. Recall as well that when we speak of the Christmas mystery it doesn't mean, "Oh just believe it, you can't understand it anyway," but mystery for the Christian means that the clues and the light are so full and near we can miss it.  God has gotten so close to us in the birth of Jesus, it might go un-noticed - perhaps even by myself.

Meanwhile here is the first verse of the Kontakion (Eastern Christian poem/prayer/hymn) for the Feast of the Lord's Birth. We might use it to open up a time of prayerful looking or gazing each morning of the Octave. Again, it is said of Saint Kateri Tekawitha that she prayed more with her eyes than with her lips. And Saint Therese of Lisieux said her prayer was sometimes just a sigh

Today the Virgin gives birth to him who is above all being,
and the earth offers a cave to him whom no one can approach.
Angels with shepherds give glory,
and magi journey with a star,
for to us there has been born
a little Child, God before all ages.

And often on the Christmas radio stations we hear the Italian children's carol which translated says:

You came down from the stars,
O King of Heaven,
and came into a cave as cold as ice!
Oh, how much it cost you to love me so! 

In the center of the icon is the Bethlehem cave. It is placed centrally so we don't miss its powerful significance.  But it is not a sentimental significance. At the start of the Christ-story we are already being directed to the end of the story where Jesus' body, having been taken down from the cross, is placed in the tomb hewn out of rock. And it is from that cave-tomb that Jesus will rise in the bright-newness of Easter. Notice that the Infant's bed resembles a sepulcher (tomb) and that in his Gospel swaddling clothes Jesus is symbolically wrapped as on Good Friday.

The cave is a gaping hole in the earth or the wide open mouth taking us in. The cave is that which seeks to swallow humanity - drawing it into the encapsulating power of sin: our wrong-headedness, our destructive folly, our rebellion against goodness, the error of those choices that oppose the God of light and life. God is born into that!

The presence of the cave also suggests that all aspects of creation share in the transfiguring renewal Jesus Christ initiates. Each participates in its own way: the plants, the animals, the people, the earth itself. Notice that the rock seems to radiate light.

At Christmas, pondering the Nativity Icon, we might pray for Christ to be born in hearts cold as ice - mindful of those national hearts that ignore the poor, that contemplate war and its preparations, that make decisions that benefit only the few, that plot evil...

Christ is Born! Glorify Him! 
I send a blessing and good wishes for joy and peace
on Christmas Day!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful icon. Much to look at and gaze upon. It brings me peace. MERRY CHRISTMAS!