Merry (Continued) Christmas!

Presentation the Temple © Jan L. Richardson

Reading from the Gospels, Christmas 1: Luke 2.22-40

A blessed Feast of St. Stephen and a Happy Boxing Day to you! Advent tends to be such an intense season for me that this year I find myself particularly grateful that Christmas is not just one day, concluding at midnight last night (at which point the radio station I was listening to abruptly ceased its Christmas music) but rather a period of twelve days. There’s some variation as to when the Twelve Days of Christmas begin; some say Christmas night, others begin counting on December 26; regardless, it’s finished by Epiphany on January 6. The point, however, is that Christmas invites us to not wrap up our celebration of the Incarnation too quickly.

This period offers us several feast days that add texture to the season. Two of them commemorate folks who were important in the life of the early church; today is the Feast of St. Stephen (the first Christian martyr), and tomorrow is the Feast of St. John the Evangelist (to whom the fourth gospel is attributed). December 28 offers us the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which bids us remember Matthew’s story of the slaughter of the male children in Bethlehem. This feast in particular calls us to acknowledge the shadow side of Christmas and to be mindful of our call to relieve the suffering that persists even amid the joy of the Incarnation.

This year, as I recover from the blessed intensities of the Advent season, I’m giving particular thought to how I might linger in my celebration of Christmas, how I might find some festive rest in these days. In this period between Christmas Day and Epiphany, are there any practices I might take on that would help me savor this season? Might those practices become new traditions in my own observance of the fullness of Christmas?

In the spirit of seeking some rest in this time, my reflection on the lectionary this week will be abbreviated. This Sunday the Revised Common Lectionary gives us Luke 2.22-40 for our gospel reading. Luke tells us of how Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple, which, according to the law, would have occurred forty days after Jesus’ birth. They went not only to present Jesus but also for Mary to go through the prescribed rituals of purification following a birth. In the Temple they meet the prophets Simeon and Anna, who have long waited for this moment.

When I created a mixed media series called The Advent Hours a few years ago, I included a depiction of this moment in the Temple; it’s the image above (somewhat cropped for my purposes here). In creating it, I borrowed from medieval artists who rendered this scene, particularly the artists whose illuminated prayerbooks inspired this series. This is what I wrote to accompany my version of the Presentation in the Temple:

A light for revelation, Simeon says of Jesus when Mary and Joseph go to the temple to engage in the rituals required after the birth of a child. Medieval artists sometimes conflated the Presentation in the Temple with the Circumcision of Jesus, which would have happened several weeks previously. Although Simeon wouldn’t have actually held the knife, as these medieval artists sometimes depict, he has cutting words nonetheless: And a sword will pierce your own soul, too, he says to Mary. Then the prophet Anna arrives, and she sings of redemption, and perhaps Mary remembers: A light, he said; a light for revelation. A luminous Word.

So how might these Christmas days invite you to linger with the luminous Word whose birth we are not done celebrating? Where do you find yourself in the wake of December 25th? What were the gifts of Advent? What were the challenges? What do you need now? How will you get it?

December 26 finds me feeling both sentimental and expectant. Not to mention tired. But recovering. In the wee hours of yesterday morning, I posted my final reflection for this year’s journey toward Christmas at The Advent Door. As with last year, publishing my Christmas reflection, and ending the Advent pilgrimage, offered a poignant mix of relief and regret. Intense as they are—and in part because of their very intensity—I love the days of Advent, love diving into their richness and finding what new words and images they have yet to offer me. I’m always a little sorry to see those days go. But—they’ll come around again next year, inviting us once again to find new gifts in the ancient story of the Word that came, and comes still, as light and life.

If you didn’t make it all the way through The Advent Door, I invite you to pay a visit there as we move through these lingering days of Christmas. Until Advent rolls around again next year, I look forward to finding what the coming months have to offer and exploring that here at The Painted Prayerbook. I am grateful beyond measure for your presence on the path.

Merry (Twelve Days of) Christmas to you, and a wondrous new year ahead!

8 Responses to “Merry (Continued) Christmas!”

  1. Jeff Strain Says:

    My pastor sent me your website and through it I found your blog. I am very interested in your work. I am also an artist, child of ministers, adopted by them actually and am just beginning to use the gift God has gave me at the age of 52. I struggled all my life with laying down painting for a more traditional method of ministry. Now its time to paint. So I read your blog with great interest. I really enjoy your charcoal drawings. Blessings.

  2. Jan Richardson Says:

    Thanks much, Jeff! I’ve enjoyed visiting your blog and am glad that it’s time for you to paint. Thank you for sharing it with us. Many blessings to you as you continue to live into your artful gift. Merry Christmas, and a wondrous new year to you!

  3. Jennifer Says:

    Thank you so much for the inspiration you offer! Your insights at the Advent Door and the Painted Prayerbook feed me throughout the year. I am very grateful!

  4. mompriest Says:

    Jan, thank you for stopping by my blog. I have followed your blog for several years and really appreciate what you offer!

  5. karla Says:

    merry days of Christmas to you, too, dear artist-teacher-writer!
    thanks for stopping by my place…and for your thoughts. am grateful for the deep well of beauty and reflection here. peace~~

  6. karla Says:

    p.s. love “luminous word”.

  7. Gerhard Says:

    Jan, I have a technical question. I have a very old Afrikaans Bible, published in the 1960s. It was dedicated to my wife Anna when she was 6 or 7. Unfortunately, it is falling apart. I would like to have it nicely bound as a surprise gift to her. Leather, gold lettering (if I can afford it) that sort of thing.

    Do you know of a person or business who does that sort of thing? (It would have to be in the Atlanta area, I think).

    Regards and thank you.


    • Jan Richardson Says:

      Gerhard, thanks for stopping by. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any firsthand experience with a book restorer, and I don’t know of anyone in the Atlanta area who does this, though I’m sure there must be somebody! The only book restorer I know of is a lovely little shop that I always stop by when I’m in Seattle. You can find them at Ars Obscura. It looks like they can take care of long-distance orders via shipping. You might also check with one of the university libraries in the Atlanta vicinity; at least some of them have rare book departments and there would likely be someone who could direct you to a local person or business that might be able to help you. And if anyone swings by this comment who might have another idea, thanks for leaving it! Good luck; your idea about surprising your wife with it as a gift sounds lovely. Best wishes on your search.

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