Look carefully at the painting. It’s one of history’s truly great pieces of Christmas-related art. Then read the Bible passage that inspired it. Then read my devotional reflection. Finally, there’s a prayer you can recite at the end.

3.  THE JOURNEY TO BETHLEHEM

 

Artwork:  Mary and Joseph on the Way to Bethlehem (Portinari Altarpiece) – Hugo van der Goes, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Reading: Luke 2:1-5

Reflection:

On the road to Bethlehem, Joseph gently assists the pregnant Mary down a steep incline. She has left the donkey, presumably because it would be too perilous to ride down such a slope.

Often portrayed in the background or ineffectually to one side, Joseph is presented to us here as a gallant and caring partner to Mary. One hand on her arm. The other guiding her from behind. He’s being a typically helpful partner.

Hugo van der Goes’ depiction of their journey appears in the background of a much larger three-paneled work (that dome in the bottom left corner is the bald head of St Anthony, depicted in the foreground).

hugo_van_der_goes_004

The full Portinari Altarpiece is an extravagant depiction of the nativity, including the adoration of the angels and the shepherds, the visit of the Magi, various patron saints (including the aforementioned bald Anthony), and even a portrait of Van der Goes’ patron and his family.

That’s why this touching, intimate scene, tucked away in the top corner of the first panel is so moving. Joseph’s gentle kindness isn’t front and center. It’s barely noticeable.

And yet, he’s doing everything he can, as husband and prospective new father, to protect his little family from hardship and danger.

He’s serving God’s purposes by doing.

He acts. He provides. He submits to the sacrament of simply being helpful.

Sometimes we dismiss action. We say, “I’m a human being, not a human doing,” as if somehow doing is inferior to being.

Well, Joseph is a doer, and in his attentive, helpful action he ably serves Mary and the Christ she carries within her. Might you also find in all the busyness and hard work of the Christmas season opportunities to see your action as a sacrament of helpfulness offered to the Christ.

 

Prayer:

God in amongst us,

Christ in the midst of our busyness,

As we rush headlong from place to place,

and from thing to thing,

In the hectic pace of our living,

May we remember to look to recognize those who care for and support us.

May we see the progress we have made and the growth that has occurred.

May we notice the good things that we have shared and shared in,

And may we identify the connections with you that have challenged and sustained us.

God in amongst us,

Christ in the midst of our stillness and solitude,

As we wait for the next thing,

Experience loneliness,

In our times of restriction and withdrawal,

May we see the progress we have made and the growth that has occurred.

May we notice the good things that we have shared and shared in,

And may we identify the connections with you that have challenged and sustained us.

God in amongst us,

Christ in the midst of all life,

Whatever our state of being,

Wherever the place we find ourselves,

Whenever time may hold us,

May we look to the Spirit’s prompting.

May we attend to the needs of others even as we attend to our own.

May we love our neighbor as ourselves,

And find your love for us lived around, amongst and within us.

Thus, may it be.

Amen.

By Jon Humphries

Share to: