I looked around for some information about this stunning image, which can be found on the cover of a volume called The Edinburgh Companion to the Bible and the Arts. Originally I saw it on Facebook with this explanation:
Here is an Icon brought to my attention by a colleague of mine.
It is an Icon of 15th century located in France.
Mary is inquiring the Torah and Joseph keeps Jesus in his arms.
It is a nativity that goes beyond many stereotypes. It speaks of tenderness with regard to Joseph and of theological skills concerning Mary.
A Nativity that appeals for an updating in our manger scene!
Therefore, merry Christmas. Beyond stereotypes!
However, it is indeed a 15th century image, but not of the Virgin Mary reading the Torah, but rather she is reading the hours. The image is fittingly called the Nativity, the Virgin Reading the Besancon Book of Hours. Despite its initial explanation to me being more exotic, either way, it is a beautiful image to behold and pray with as we enter Christmas.
This is another nativity image that caught my eye, something known as Isa ibn Maryam, meaning Jesus, son of Mary. In Islam, Mary is highly revered. Jesus is seen as a prophet, but not as God himself. A surprisingly small amount of people know or understand how Jesus and Mary are understood by our Muslim brothers and sisters. There are so many links about this that I am hard pressed to find the most accurate one to show you. My best advice is to go find a Muslim friend and talk to them about it, or visit a local mosque. If your church has any interfaith connections, this should not be hard to do. If your church does not have interfaith connections, this would be a great time to explore starting them!
And then this scene of Jesus born in a tent to refugees, as a reminder of the era in which we live. People traveling, not because they want to, but because they have to, and people not welcomed when they arrive. There are no shortage of reminders to our current environment when we pray with the Nativity.
Christmas is here. Christ, born in the lowliest of circumstances to people at the lowest rungs of what is known as acceptable society. If we do not use this time to reorient and refocus ourselves, we miss yet another moment when God calls out to us to pay attention.
Jesus came so that all might be one. Jesus said to love one another. Jesus entire story from birth to death to resurrection is an instruction in mercy, compassion, outreach, and hope.
When will we ever learn? How about today?
May your Christmas dawn in hope this year, and may you carry hope forth for others in the days to come.
Blessings to one and all! Peace on earth! Goodwill to all people! Jesus asks for it, it is up to us to do it. This year, may it be so.