Brian Kershisnik is a contemporary American painter, who is well known in particular for this painting entitled “Nativity.”
I’m struck by the movement of the angelic host to, around, and then out from the place of the birth of the Christ child. While it seemed a bit white-washed in terms of how I imagine angels, there is also a powerful statement of tenderness amidst this massive, moving, cloud of angels that I can almost hear singing and speaking. Notice the children among the angels, in particular the one sticking its head out over the top of the bed post, which is actually part of a stall in a barn. The dog too has puppies. Entranced at the sight of the mother and child, the midwives are beginning to clean-up with the bucket of water. Joseph is overcome with exhaustion and relief, gratitude expressed with his look and left hand. Simultaneously, his right hand is extended through the wood barrier to rest lovingly on Mary’s shoulder.
The manger scene is presented as a dynamic gathering place. It’s the hub to which the angels come. It’s the center around which they contemplate. Then it’s the pivot from which they move forward to sing and talk of, leaving the frame with opened mouths singing and proclaiming the news of which they are witnesses.
Like this portrayal of the nativity, Advent is a season of movement and dynamism, excitement and anticipation. It’s also a time of tenderness and gentle encounter. Think of all the precious-moment laden Hallmark movies, traditions, and established pop-culture memories like Ralphie wanting a Red Ryder BB-Gun, the transformative story of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.
And yet the image of the birth of this child is also a dynamic unleashing of the subversive power of God to bring a definitive peace-making justice into the world, as described by Mary in her gratitude:
God has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
In this season of Advent, as you contemplate this painting, how are you feeling a movement and dynamism of God in the world? How are you glimpsing a holy tenderness at the root of such divine power? If you’re not sensing those, how do you long to experience such a transformative movement and life-changing tenderness in this season of wonder?
If you’d like to meditate upon the painting, using the discipline of Visio Divine you can find a PDF resource to do so HERE.