Tonight we take a break from the series I was posting to celebrate the Advent Season and the joy and even doubts that can be caused by Jesus coming into our lives.
Above is the nativity icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church. While I do not intend to make this an exhaustive explanation, I wanted to point out a few parts of it.
There are the shepherds to the right who were pure of heart and received from the angels the news that the Savior of the world had been born. The magi are seen to the left being guided by the star. The women at the bottom right are midwives who display that the Son of God was truly born as a human, and did not merely appear to be human as some early heretics claimed.
At the bottom left is Joseph. The story is that after the birth of Jesus he walked out of the cave and was greatly battling doubts. The figure next to him is supposed to be the devil who is, of course, not making it any easier on him. We may sing “What Child is This?” but Joseph’s question was “Whose child is this?!” since he knew he was certainly not the father.
Mary is facing Joseph instead of Jesus, which is rare in any icon featuring both Jesus and Mary. She is concerned about him and interceding for him. Jesus lies next to Mary wrapped in grave clothes foreshadowing his coming death.
Joseph also has a halo, indicating he is a saint of the Orthodox Church. He wrestled with doubt even after God incarnate had physically come into his life. It makes me wonder if the shepherds appeared after Jesus’ birth more for Joseph’s sake than anything else.
Our Church’s hymns mention this struggle and Joseph’s victory over doubt:
Joseph, when he beheld the greatness of this wonder, thought that he saw a mortal wrapped as a babe in swaddling clothes; but from all that came to pass he understood that it was the true God, who grants the world great mercy. – Vespers of the Forefeast of the Nativity of Christ.
As you celebrate this Christmas season, rest in the fact that our Savior has come into this world and our lives to heal every messy, doubting, sinful part of us. There is nothing a repentant heart has done that will permanently push God away from it. And there is nothing that you have done that he has not already helped someone else through, someone else who is considered a saint.
To read more about the gritty drama of the Nativity, check out an ancient document called The Protevangelium of James. It was written in the first one hundred years of the Church and it regards all of the anguish and drama in the life of Mary and Joseph.