Reimagining Christmas in modern Australia

When you think of Christmas, what images do you see in your mind’s eye?
Bonding time: the Nativity in Townsville. Artist: Jan Hynes.

By Ben Smith, Director of the Family & Life Office

When you think of Christmas, what images do you see in your mind’s eye? You might see Santa Claus, reindeer or Christmas trees. It is often hard to escape from these images that we are bombarded with from our popular culture. These snowy images can be hard to relate to at a time when the possibility of sunburn and the sting of a mosquito are more concerning than the prospect of frostbite.

Others might see in their mind’s eye the Nativity scene with Mary and the baby Jesus. But camels and kings from the Orient are also foreign to our everyday experience and we can become complacent about this familiar image. Consequently, we can struggle to be amazed by the first Christmas story as we might have been when we were children.

Fostering our imagination can be good for our faith. In fact, the great writer CS Lewis recognised that imagination played a key role in his conversion to Christianity. To help us enter more deeply into the season of Christmas, I would like to give you a new perspective via a modern painting of the Nativity from Townsville artist Jan Hynes that is known as Bonding time: the Nativity in Townsville. This image contains a lot of messages but I only have space to deal with a few of them.

The first thing I noticed about the image was that St Joseph was holding the baby Jesus instead of Mary. This feature reminded me of the time when I held my first child more than 10 years ago. Men are much more involved in the birth process today and this helps us bond more strongly with our children. I wonder how involved St Joseph was in the birth of Jesus?

I then noticed that Jesus was wrapped in paper hand towel and that he was probably born in the Parenting Room depicted in the background. In my experience, the toilets in a petrol station are not the most hygienic places and I would only use them in the case of an emergency. So for the artist to suggest that Jesus was born in this location indicates how low Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, stooped to enter our world.

This humility of God helps me understand God in a different light. It was also very humble of God to show Himself to mechanics as His first witnesses. This aspect of God helps me appreciate Him as a God of Love and Mercy rather than of judgement.

There is a lot of joy and wonder in this image. Notice how all the characters are gazing at Jesus, who is located right in the centre. Outside of this focus on the newborn Jesus there are also some clues to His ultimate destiny. The plant in the background seems to be a symbol of Palm Sunday. Furthermore, Mary is carrying a shopping bag with the message ‘Blood: Saves Lives’ printed on it. This bag contains a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. These symbols are likely to be connected to Jesus’ future Passion and the Eucharist.

I hope this image has stimulated your Christian imagination. What do you see in this image that takes your interest? How does this deepen your faith? I would like to encourage you to send me an email on with your answers to these questions. The best two responses will win a copy of a hardcover book: The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II – The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy by George Weigel.


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