Tag Archives: Nativity

Four Glorious Realities to Encourage Disciples

February 23, 2018

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TransfigurationThere is a second altar in the Basilica of the Transfiguration called the Grotto of Christ or the Lower Chapel. It is located beneath the high altar in the location of the first Christian church built on Mount Tabor during the Byzantine Period. The chapel has a barrel-vaulted ceiling decorated with a magnificent blue mosaic designed by A. Villani. The mosaic depicts four scenes, two on each side, and unexpectedly, they do not portray anything related to the Transfiguration of Jesus, but rather, portray four glorious realities that pertain to the life of Jesus. The purpose of the first Transfiguration was to encourage Jesus as he made his journey to Jerusalem, and the objective of the four scenes is to encourage the people of today as they make their pilgrim journey through life.

The Nativity. The first scene depicts the newborn Jesus with a golden halo around his head lying in a manger of straw at the feet of three angels, all looking down at him. The center angel has hands extended as if to present the infant to a waiting world, and the angels standing on each side have their hands raised in the orans position to praise God for the glorious birth of his beloved Son. Jesus is holding a globe with a Cross on the top because he was born to save the world which he accomplished through his triumphant Cross. With his birth comes the promise of salvation which provides immeasurable encouragement to all who place their hope in him.

The Eucharist. The next scene has three more angels. The center angel, with eyes gazing upward to heaven, is holding a consecrated host, the Body of Christ, in his right hand, above a golden chalice which contains the Precious Blood in his left hand. Jesus promised his disciples at the Last Supper, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:18), and Jesus fulfills this promise every time that he comes to person in the Eucharist. Jesus explained that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56). It also carries the pledge of a share in his Resurrection, as Jesus also declared “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:54).

The Crucifixion. On the opposite side of the chapel is the third scene with three angels standing above a lamb with a halo above its head, neck slit and bleeding, lying dead upon an open book. The book symbolizes the fact that Jesus is “the word made flesh” (Jn 1:14) and that he has “the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:68). Jesus is also “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29,36), “the Lamb that was slain” (Rv 5:12) and “pierced for our offenses” (Is 53:5; see Jn 19:34). The glorious news of the crucifixion is that by the precious blood of Christ, the unblemished lamb (1 Pt 1:19), we are cleansed of all sin (1 Jn 1:7; see Rv 1:5) and our redemption and salvation accomplished.

The Resurrection. The fourth mosaic shows three more angels. The center angel has his hands crossed over his chest, the symbol of obedience, representing Jesus who obediently said, “not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42), and who was “obedient to death, even death on the cross” (Phil 2:8). The angel is standing above an open sarcophagus, an uncovered coffin or casket, which symbolizes the tomb of Jesus that no longer contains his body. It is empty. Jesus is risen. The glorious good news is that “if we have grown into a union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom 6:5), and we are encouraged with the assurance that “if we have died with Christ … we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8).

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The animals of Christmas

December 15, 2017

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Shepherds

The Birth of Jesus and the
Adoration of the Shepherds – Shepherd’s Field Bethlehem, Israel

There are several animals that are sometimes included in the Nativity or manger scene used to portray the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

An ox. An ox alone is a symbol for Jesus. An ox is strong and powerful and able to carry an enormous burden, while Jesus is all-powerful and able to carry any burden. Jesus explained, “My yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 11:30). Also, an ox served as the largest, most imposing, and most expensive animal to be sacrificed on the altar in the temple as a sin offering, and Jesus is the pure and unblemished lamb that was sacrificed on the altar of the Cross as a sin offering for the redemption and salvation of the world.

An ass. An ass or a donkey was part of several key events in the life of Jesus. Many religious artists portray an ass as present at the time of Jesus’ birth. Baby Jesus and Mary probably sat on an ass on their flight to Egypt (see Mt 2:14,21). Jesus rode astride an ass as he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (Mt 21:2,5,7; Jn 12:14). An ass represents humility, patience, peace, and service.

An ox and an ass together. An ox and ass are often displayed together in Nativity or crib scenes because of a verse in the Hebrew Scriptures: “An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger” (Is 1:3). There is a connection between this text and the birth of Jesus because the words “owner,” “master,” and “manger” in the verse from the prophet Isaiah apply to Jesus. Jesus is the creator of all things (Col 1:16); he is the owner. When Jesus was born, he was laid in a manger (Lk 2:6,12,16). As the one who would take the throne of his father David, rule over the house of Jacob, and whose kingdom will never end (Lk 1:32,33), the child is the master.

The ox and the ass at Christmas. The ox and ass are not depicted in all Christmas scenes, but when they are, they are shown in the background, behind Jesus who is usually in the manger in the foreground, flanked by Mary and Joseph. The shepherds or the magi may also be depicted in the crib scene, always secondary to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and ahead of the ox and ass. The two animals are among the humblest and least of the animals, representative figures for all of the animal kingdom. They are shown watching and waiting, docilely and patiently, in admiration and joy over all that is happening before them.

A dog. Shepherds and dogs worked together to care for the sheep. The shepherd led the flock from the front, and the dog was responsible for the rear. The dog used barking and nipping to keep stragglers in contact with the flock, to prevent sheep from straying, and to seek and find any sheep that may have wondered off. When the shepherds went to see the newborn Jesus (Lk 2:15-19), they would have taken their dogs with them. A dog keeps watch at night and is a faithful friend to its owner, and on Christmas night, the dog kept watch over the manger and acted as a faithful friend to Jesus. A dog represents fidelity, loyalty, and watchfulness.

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