“There is strong shadow where there is much light.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
(Lorenzo Costa / 1490 / Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, France)
Birth usually brings with it a great deal of joy, expectation as well as a fair share
Yet in some rare instances, there is sadly a presence of foreboding.
As in something troublesome is looming while the expected state of gladness is not
entirely free of worry.
A feeling of something, yet not quite known or understood….just a sense.
For it is both anticipation and foreboding to which we, the faithful, must now look.
Never mind that as much as we may prefer to simply bask in the glory of the news of
this happy and tender moment, we are reminded that a shadow is constantly present.
Anticipation: a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action
b the act of looking forward; especially : pleasurable expectation
Forbode: to have an inward conviction of (something, such as a coming ill or misfortune)
Looking at this particular image of the Nativity, painted by the Italian artist Lorenzo Costa, I am drawn to the expression on Joseph’s face.
Should there not be a smile?
What of an assumed expression of happiness and even pride
in the birth of this new child?
Yet instead of exultation and happiness,
those emotions are replaced by an expression of sadness, perhaps even sorrow.
There is a resignation of something greater than….
greater than we the viewer are privy to.
Mary’s eyes also allude to something other than jubilation over the birth of this
child of hers.
There is a feeling of the resolute hiding behind a prayerful countenance.
And even the child himself…resigned.
And where we have spent the past month or longer reveling in all things Christmas…
with the culmination of jubilation coming about on Christmas Day…
as the faithful marked, once again, the birth of the Christ Child….
there remains a shadow….an ominous foreboding shadow.
For this particular birth brings with it more than the joy to be experienced at the birth of a child….for this child, this glad tiding, is no mere child….
Eight day’s following the birth and the mysterious visits of strangers, both meek and
grand, the child was brought to the Temple, as religious custom dictated, to be
circumcised. And following which, also with custom, the time of the presentation, purification and sacrifice as required.
At this time a strange old man approached the young family.
Mary drew the child close to her breast as the stranger continued coming closer, arms open wide, babbling and now reaching for the babe.
But there was something oddly familiar in the way this man was speaking, something that
moved Mary to volunteer the baby, with now her own outstretched arms,
giving up her child just as she would eventually have to offer up her son for
the salvation of all mankind…
“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
as you have promised.
I have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared for all people.
He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him.
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother,
“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise.
He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him.
As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your very soul.”
A shadow draws across the jubilation…..