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Have you had “light bulb” moments, with those flashes of inspiration when understanding clarifies, when creativity bursts? I hope so. I had one in November 2019. I saw a painting on the internet and it jumped out at me, accompanied by fast-flowing ideas. This Advent Calendar is the result.
During Advent, we’ll open up thoughts, online, such as we did as children. I remember fondly the daily step-by-step countdown to Christmas in those days of opening Advent Calendar flaps. We’ll follow that tradition (but no chocolates hidden behind flaps!). Each day will provide insights and devotional thoughts on the SBF website related to Christmas as we know it today – provided by us, the SBF family. We can follow the obvious Advent themes: carols, wise men and shepherds, gifts, hospitality; but we can also ponder prophecies fulfilled, the names of Christ, the Christian response to loneliness and ill-health at Christmas, cross-cultures, and whatever else you submit to the Calendar.
These contributions might include Biblical passages, topical thoughts and challenges, prayer promptings, and perhaps artistic, poetic or musical creations.
Let’s start with that painting that sparked the ideas …

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The Annunciation: Luke 1:26-35, 38: God sent the angel Gabriel to announce to a virgin named Mary that she was to conceive and bear a son. He said “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.” Mary wondered what kind of greeting this might be (who wouldn’t!). But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He shall be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; his kingdom will never end.” After receiving a response to her question as to how this could happen to her, a virgin, Mary answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”.

After receiving the news from the angel, Mary hurried from Nazareth to the home of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, in the hill country of Judea. Then she returned to Nazareth before she and Joseph travelled the uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem in the latter stages of her pregnancy.
The Annunciation caught the imagination of many early painters such as this masterpiece by Fra Angelico (1395–1455). A Dominican friar who solely painted divine subjects including several versions of this divine moment, this Annunciation was placed at the top of the stairs leading to the monks’ cells. Imagine walking up to it and spotting a remarkable feature – look carefully at the three lines painted in gold between the Archangel on the left and the Virgin on the right. The words of Mary are on the middle line, written upside-down and backwards. To read them we have to stand upside-down. Fra Angelico indicates they can be read by God, being addressed to him: “Ecce ancilla Domini, fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” (“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word”).

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It was written of Fra Angelico, “All of his many paintings were of divine subjects, and it seems that he never altered or retouched them, perhaps from a religious conviction that, because his paintings were divinely inspired, they should retain their original form. He was wont to say that he who illustrates the acts of Christ should be with Christ.”. I may not be gifted in his sublime way but I can endeavour to be with Christ and live out acts of Christ.
“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” May it be so for us.

Martin Vernon