Mt Athos, Greece, before 9th C.
Read: John 1.1-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
There are thousands upon thousands of pictures of Jesus as a baby in Christian art, so it was hard to choose just one picture to represent the key figure in the story of the nativity, Jesus himself. Without him, there could be no story, but every image of him tells that story slightly differently.
This picture is an ancient Orthodox icon, from some time before the 9th century AD. It is now housed on Mount Athos in Greece. It is reputed to have found its way to Mt Athos miraculously, floating upright across the water from the Turkish mainland, where it had been thrown into the water by a Christian woman called Victoria, to save it from being burned by her husband. This type of icon, showing Jesus and Mary cheek to cheek is called the Glykophilousia, which literally means “sweet loving”. It is sometimes called the “sweet kissing” or “loving kindness” icon. It captures something of the very natural and human love of a mother for her child. It reminds us of the heart of the Christmas story, the love of God shown for humankind in the gift of Jesus. If we want to know what Christian faith is all about, it is here in this picture. In Jesus, God comes as close to us as a child in his mother’s arms, and makes himself as vulnerable too
The opening of John’s Gospel speaks of this wonderful gift – God himself coming among us to conquer our darkness and bring us to life through his love.
- Who shows you love and takes care of you? Give thanks for them (and to them if you can.)
- “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3.16) When and how did you first become aware of the love of God, and how secure do you feel in that love?