I researched many icons to come up with this one rendition of my own. Only two of the Gospels have nativity stories, and they both reflect Mary’s Intimacy of Christmas Love each illustrating different details in the text. Matthew focuses on the righteousness of Joseph and includes the Magi or Wise Men bringing gifts when they arrive at the “house.” Luke’s narrative mentions a manger, shepherds, and choirs of angels used here to frame the upper portion of the icon. The composition integrates the two versions and accentuates the energy of the earth as holy ground. God was acting again upon his creation: the earth rises as if awakened to this approaching act of love and mystery.
Earth is cracking open with the power of love given at birth.
Mountains crack open in darkness; within the darkness, Mary reclines on a white cushion. The spiraling motion surrounding the event culminates in the center where Mary and the child embrace cheek to cheek. The place where Mary and the face of Jesus touch is at the very center of the icon, expressing their intimate love and private connection.
There are only two times in iconography where we find Mary and her child’s face touching cheek to cheek. The touching signifies that love between a mother and child is most intense at birth and death. It suggests we begin and end our lives with love.
The icon shows Mary larger than the other figures. This aspect of the icon is called “hierarchical perspective,” where characters of more importance are larger than others. Joseph is smaller and shown as an old man holding his belly as if pregnant. The reference to his compassion for her pregnancy is subtle and worthy of recognition.
Intimacy of Christmas
Round mandorla (man-DOR-la) shapes are common to specific icons. They define sacred spaces, stressing the importance of an event. Typically found in scenes of Christ’s Ascension, Mary’s Assumption, the Transfiguration, and His descent into Hades. The almond-shaped cushion where Mary is reclining is a precursor to the use of the mandorla. Mary’s Intimacy of Christmas Love is encapsulated in an egg-shaped space, fashioned by the mountains that curve in around one another like hands.
We see two animals peeking into a red box. Luke’s narrative mentions a manger which was a feed box for animals, but in Matthew’s account, no animals are mentioned. Iconography is a visual language, early iconographers designed this scene with the animals to highlight the humble Intimacy of Christmas and the surroundings where the event occurred. The idea was likely taken from a prophecy in Isaiah: “The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib.” (Isa: 1:3)
Icons of this event highlight the manger as an altar, a coffin, or doorway. In this scene, a red box holds the child Jesus. The same door motif is repeated in the “Entombment,” the “Doubting Thomas,” and “Descent into Hades.” Jesus being swaddled in a white cloth foreshadows the shroud which will wrap His body at his entombment.
This Christmas event is easy for my mind to comprehend; a woman gives birth to a son. Mary was given a space within to house and grow a child who would lead us to explore how we live in Christ. I want to remind that Mary gave birth to Jesus who becomes the Christ. Mary’s Intimacy of Christmas Love is the Christ who comes to us through our kindness to one another. Beginning with the intimacy of Christmas through Mary in Jesus we all receive Christ in our own womb. We cannot fully comprehend Christ without knowing the story of Jesus. Together they unfold in revelation and move in and out of one another fluidly. Knowledge of God is made visible in Jesus the Man, but Mary birthed the body in whom Christ is revealed.
Text from my new book. A comprehensive collection of 32 images in Beautiful full Color ; Life in Christ Knowledge of God made visible in Jesus the Man 6” x 9” Paperback, 110 pages. ISBN 978-0-557-03563-2 cost 24.79