On the first day of each week of Advent, Seeing the Word will post an illumination paired with an audio reading of the associated Scripture passage. The subsequent days will feature one of the six movements of visio divina: Listening, Meditating, Seeing, Praying, Contemplating, and Becoming Christ-like.
WEEK FOUR•DAY Four
The Birth of Christ
My eye is immediately drawn to the shaft of gold in the center of the illumination. It is a beautiful indicator of the glory of the newborn King. On both sides of this golden vertical shaft, heavenly hosts create a horizontal plane, creating the image of a cross. It seems cruel to acknowledge the cross when we are celebrating new life, but they are intrinsically tied together. The ultimate “new life” we experience through Christ requires us to know the full story, from birth to death to resurrection.
I am struck by the prominence of the animals in the scene. The ox is like a black hole that draws my reluctant eye to itself. It seems to mar the glory of the shaft. Yet, could it be that the ox is genuflecting to the manger? My attitude towards its blackness softens as I now see the black ox as the shadow of death bowing to the Christ-child. Could it be that the bull, symbolizing the fake idols we create, is bowing to the only one who deserves to be worshipped?
The donkey and sheep have a prominent place in the scene and obvious ties to many references in scripture. The depiction of the shepherds hardly succumbs to conventional images. But all who peer into the manger have a sense of awe on their face. I’m glad the baby Jesus is not depicted but implied. It leaves us room to focus on the mystery and awe of this human-divine event.
Laurie E. Neill is a pastor at First Lutheran Church in Fargo, ND. She graduated from Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN in 2012. Prior to ordination, she worked as a lay pastor at The Lutheran Church of Christ the King in Moorhead, MN. She became “hooked” on The Saint John’s Bible during the Praying with Imagination retreat this past summer.