The Nativity of the Lord

25 December 2018
Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Paolo Veronese. Image: Simon Abrahams and EPPH.

 

In our own time, God speaks to us through His Son. Hebrews 1:2

25 December 2018, The Nativity of the Lord

 

Gospel Reflection

Isaiah 52:7–10, Psalm 97(98):1–6, Hebrews 1:1–6, John 1:1–18 Alternative: John 1:1–5,9–14

As we look into the crib and gaze upon the baby Jesus, we can understand that God is teaching us a lesson about how we are to live. By nature, we can be rather selfish. We often don’t like to serve others, we would rather serve ourselves. We don’t like to be last, we would rather be first. We would prefer to be higher up, even at the cost of others.

But, in Christmas, God is offering another way. “Come down from your self-made throne and learn from me how to live a life of service,” says God. We adore Jesus as God, and now he is our way. God wants more of us than to just visit the manger in awe and wonder. We are to imitate the Child we adore and surrender our lives to him. If we do, he will be with us as the greatest friend we could have, and the real peace and joy of this day will be in our hearts—not just today, but in every day that will follow.

While we rightly reflect on and give thanks for the goodness of those we celebrate these days with, the challenge is to do the same for those others—the ill or dying among our families and friends, the “black sheep”, the one who is struggling. God delights in us even more than we delight in the sounds, sights and tastes of this day.

Lord, help us to remember that no failure can destroy the innate beauty and goodness you have instilled in each of us. Amen.

Fr Sean Cullen

 

Artwork Spotlight

Rest on the Flight into Egypt – Paolo Veronese (1528–1588)

“Rest on the Flight into Egypt”, c. 1572. SN 82, Oil on Canvas. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, USA.

This year, we are not looking at a typical Christmas scene—the crib—but rather, we might say, at the consequences of the crib scene, something that the average Christian would rather not face. Great crowds flock to Christmas Masses. Yet, many do not return for the celebration of the Passion in Holy Week. Sadly, religion, for many, is sentimentality and thus does not sustain them for the tragedies life brings.

The Church invests much effort in presenting the Christmas message to us. The 25th of December is preceded by the four weeks of Advent—a second Lent in some respects as the Church puts before us the basics of the faith, hoping to elicit a response from us. This Advent Program is an attempt to do just that. Then, the feasts of the twelve days of Christmas start to dig deeper. This Child, hounded and persecuted from the day of his birth, asks us to be “other Christs” in a world which still rejects him. The Christmas season will end with the feast of his Baptism, an occasion to renew the vows of our own Baptism—when we accepted him and his Church.

Paolo Veronese (or “from Verona”) has cleverly weaved all these threads into his painting, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, painted about A.D. 1572 and hanging now in The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Florida. Veronese is included with Titian and Tintoretto as the “great trio that dominated Venetian painting of the cinquecento”—the 16th century. His rich colour and bold brushstrokes create contrasts and patterns, domesticating biblical compositions.

At first sight, the painting seems amusing. During the flight into Egypt, the Child becomes hungry and Mary rests on the journey in order to feed him. Joseph has just washed up, or is in the process of preparing a meal for himself and Mary. The donkey pops his head in, perhaps hoping for something himself. Angels playfully attend. One on the right has done the Holy Family’s washing. Above, another reaches down to hang the washing out to dry on the tree’s branches.

But, this playfulness is undercut by Veronese’s true intention. At close examination, the branches of the trees seem to form a cross on which the Child will eventually be crucified. The trees are palms whose branches will be cut down to lay under Christ’s feet as he enters the Holy City from which he is now fleeing. And, the donkey reminds us of the humble King who will ride on its back. The vessels held by Joseph foreshadow the Eucharistic Sacrament—for this Child has come to feed the world. “I am the Bread of Life,” he will later say. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life” (John 6:54).

Prominent, of course, in all the Christmas images are the figures of Joseph and Mary. Tradition has coated them with sugar, when in reality, the Holy Family is only mentioned in Scripture in terms of crisis. We are assured Joseph was a “just man” which means he lived faithfully as a man of the Covenant—a man with God’s own heart. He had fallen in love with Mary, then had to face the fact that she was pregnant by another. We can only imagine his pain and sense of betrayal. He was torn by his reverence for the law and his concern for Mary. He was trapped. But, once enlightened from on High, he followed his heart. And, fleeing into Egypt to protect mother and Child, he put his life on the line.

We would do well to have devotion to Joseph for many reasons: His predicament is often ours. Law may indicate a course of action in some circumstances, but on the other hand stand real persons and real emotions. Do we blindly follow the law, or do we take the risk of following our hearts? No angel will whisper in our dreams. Joseph might encourage us to take the risk of falling into God’s hands.

Monsignor Graham Schmitzer

 

With thanks to the of Diocese of Wollongong who have supplied the weekly Advent and Christmas 2018 reflections from their publication, Saviour—Daily Advent and Christmas Reflections 2018. You can read the reflections as they are published here.

 

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