Merry Christmas! ‘The Nativity’ by Gari Melchers came up in my Facebook feed a few weeks ago and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. It’s from 1891.
The painting isn’t set in the traditional stable, and there are no shepherds or wise men or angels. The child is flanked by his mother, slumped against the wall, and Joseph, watchful and attentive. Bare feet, bare walls, bare cellar.
In the centre of this exceedingly ordinary microcosm, a child. The lantern behind him gives a halo effect, because there’s more to this birth than the ordinary glory of a newborn baby. This is God among us.
Yet no one needs be more than they are. I’m particularly drawn to Mary. Of course she is close to her baby; of course she is exhausted. There are very deep natural instincts in both those things, and there’s no need to hide them, because this child of all children will not only be special, but he will be fully human.
It’s a very private moment Melchers portrays. Joseph needs no explanations for an audience; Mary need not rouse herself to welcome guests. The child’s glory is not diminished by the vulnerability of his parents; the intimacy does not detract from his significance to the world. From the very start, Jesus the Christ is thoroughly part of our world even into the in-between moments.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.