THE NATIVITY ICON
Our tradition of iconography gives us a window into the miracle of Christmas in a way that extends beyond words. In contrast to the sentimental depictions of a cherubic baby sleeping in a manger seen in Western art, images in the Nativity icon appear austere, dark. However, when we recognize the symbolism in this icon, it offers an inexhaustible meditation on our humanity and the mystery of life, death, suffering, and joy.
Central to the scene is Christ, newborn, yet his swaddling clothes are like the wrapping of a corpse; he lies in a coffin; his face is adult. The heavenly star points to Him—our God—born as a person, dying as a person. We see time as eternal: past, present, future, focused on the incarnation of God in Jesus. As if in a concentric circle, radiating from the center, the Godbearer, Bohorodytsia, lies near her son, turned away, exhausted, embodying the pain intrinsic in giving, living, and ending life here on earth. The mother and son are encircled by the natural world: earth, stone, mountains, trees. Within this universe are angels, shepherds, wise men; on the lower left is Joseph being tempted to disbelieve his wife’s innocence; on the right are midwives, bathing the infant. Note these women, tending to the basic human process of birthing; but they pour water into what might seem to be a baptismal font, or even a chalice. . . Who are these women? Ordinary working women? Neighbours? Do they represent ordinary folks like you or me? Might that mean that you or I have something to do with God bearing? Or baptizing? Or . . . ? Just one small corner of this icon leads us into contemplation of our role in bringing the presence of God to the world. What else does the icon reveal? The nativity icon invites us always into deeper, broader, richer knowledge of Christ in me, in you, in others, and in us.
CHRIST IS BORN!