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Feast of the Nativity…

December 22, 2007


This icon of the Lord’s Nativity is explained here.  I want to focus in on the depiction of Joseph.  Here is the explanation of what is happening in the part of the icon with Joseph:

St Joseph the Betrothed (bottom left), seeing his affliction and bewilderment over this most strange and divine birth;. He is shown in the left bottom corner, conversing with Satan, disguised as an old shepherd. The posture of St Joseph is one of doubt and inner trouble, for he wondered if it might be possible that the conception and birth were not by some secret human union; how blessed he was to serve the Mother of God and her divine Son, in spite of these thoughts and temptations, and to protect her from the evil gossip of the people who could not yet possibly understand so great a mystery.

How often do we too feel like Joseph?  Uncertain of our place in the unfolding work of God.  Events unfolding faster than our minds can keep up with.  We withdraw to a corner to take it all in.  We brood over the bewildering changes that sometimes cause a sense of displacement. 

I am often aware of living with a sense of not quite belonging.  Not quite fitting in.  This has something to do with having lived in another culture.  In various places.  Setting and characters matter in any story.  This has something to do with being human. 

I am somewhat of a misfit.  It is a blessing and a curse.  I find that I don’t always fit nicely and neatly into the local culture–the dominant narrative.  The third-culture perspective and postmodern deconstruction of narrative have led me to sometimes withdraw to the corner and like Joseph brood over my place in the unfolding work of God. 

The incarnation by virgin birth certainly defied convention.  Mary made room in her life–within her womb, in her soul for the mystery of God made flesh.  “Let it be…” 

But what about Joseph?  The one who also makes room for the mysterious working of God even when it meant taking a behind the scenes supporting role.  This was not easy.  Joseph saw the implications for embracing the scandal–for entering the story by faith that God was at work.  This posture of faith, the gracious response, was not without a sojourn in the wilderness of testing.  The crucible of doubt. 

This is what I love about this icon.  It depicts the difficulty of that adjustment for Joseph.  He is bewildered, filled with doubts.  How can this be?  How will the community make room for this miracle?

We too are filled with doubts as we make room for the radical nature in which God breaks into the human story in the most unconventional ways.  Can we also graciously make room?  Can we allow our role to be from the margins, from the corner?  In this place of brooding, of affliction, Satan comes to us and engages in conversation.  In that conversation we question that God is able to overcome the human interpretations and deconstructions of the story God calls us to live into. 

All this is present in the icon.  Mary, babe in manger, angels, shepherds, wisemen from the East, barnyard animals, Joseph, Satan….  The incarnation re-arranges things.  As we make room, we discover that God is with us in the midst of it all.  Emmanuel. 

Christ is born.  Glorify him.

Let’s have a feast. 

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 25, 2007 10:20 am

    Christ is born! Glorify Him!

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