In this picture, it’s all rather different from how most Christmas cards tell it. Far from being born in a sweet, cosy stable, surrounded by cuddly animals and adoring fans, Jesus is born in a dark cave.
One very old version of the Christmas story has it that Jesus was born in a cave outside Bethlehem, which is why this picture shows him that way, in the midst of jagged rocks and inky darkness. Jesus has come into the world to save it, but that means he has come into a place of darkness and danger. He is in the depths.
An ox and ass peer into Jesus’ cot, recalling some famous words of Isaiah the prophet: “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:3). Jesus comes into the world unrecognised for who he is.
Another detail in the picture underlines the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem as an event of danger and jeopardy: Jesus’ bed looks like a tomb. His birth anticipates his death, just as the gift of myrrh (a spice used in burials) points us to Jesus’ death and burial.
So the nativity of Jesus, although it is joyful, carries a serious message. Jesus is God with us, God come to live the life of a human being on earth. But he has also come to die, to set us free from our slavery to evil, poverty and injustice. As one writer put it: “God became a human child so that we might become children of God.”
Take a few moments to be still while you’re at your computer. If it’s night-time, you could dim or turn off the lights in your room.
Jesus came into the world as a light shining in the darkness.Take a night-light, and, if possible, read aloud these words as you light it…
Jesus said: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” John 12:46
Remember a place or situation in our world where people are in suffering and darkness.
Think of a friend who needs your prayers tonight.
Finish by praying this prayer…
Lighten our darkness, Lord we pray;
And in your mercy defend us
From all perils and dangers of this night;
For the love of your only Son, Our Saviour,
Jesus Christ. Amen.
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An Eastern icon of the Nativity introduces us to the main characters in the cast of Christmas: Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds and angels, and the wise men. With notes, short reflections and prayers for you to follow.
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