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Day 3: Amplifies

Advent Blog Headers 2023 (2)

Editor’s Note: For day 3 of our Advent series “The Day of Joy Drew Near,”Stephan Rochefort, the Casa San Salvador house manager, uses the imagery and the composition of The Adoration of the Magi to contemplate Jesus’ Nativity.

Housed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is my favorite depiction of the Nativity, Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi’s The Adoration of the Magi. Amidst a cavalcade of adorers, farm animals, and pheasants, it is Christ, held in his mother’s arms, who is the focus. In this tondo–a circular painting–the adorers, the Magi, and the animals lead us on an almost labyrinthine path, spiraling in towards Our Lord, who is both origin and apex. For a long time, whenever I have visited this painting at the National Gallery, I have perceived all the actions in the painting converging on Jesus. As the Letter to the Colossians declares of Jesus, “all things were created through him and for him / He is before all things / and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). With this perspective, how else could we view this scene? Christ is the center of all that is. All of creation is focused on him, especially at the moment of his incarnation, where Creator joins to his creation. Yet, though Christ’s birth serves as an apex of creation, it serves as origin as well.

The twentieth-century theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar wrote: “Christmas is not an event within history but is rather the invasion of time by eternity.”  In Jesus Christ, we do not have the end or culmination of God’s creation, but the beginning of a new one. Just as all things were created through and for Christ in the beginning, so too at Christmas creation is being refashioned for him. All life radiates out from Christ, and in Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi’s painting, that circular procession of adorers which focus on Jesus also spiral out, amplifying the message that God so loved the world that he sent his Son to share in our humanity (John 3:16).

When Christians celebrate Christmas, we of course focus on Jesus Christ who entered into our human condition to save us from our sin and brokenness. Yet as disciples of Christ we are called to be like him, to share in his mission to reconcile the world to the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This circular painting, to use an analogy, functions like a speaker: a circular device that projects a message out for all to hear. This painting, and the Nativity of Jesus Christ also project a message: God loves you so much he became human like us, and that this joy is so extraordinary, that we can do nothing but share it with all whom we meet.

The Adoration of the Magi, then, serves as a perfect meditation for both Advent and Christmas. In Advent, we share in the indirect and curved path of the adorers towards Jesus, asking him to come and fix our waywardness and brokenness and to give us new life in him. At the end of our journey, when we encounter him at Christmas we rejoice and share the joy of God breaking into our humanity, proclaiming it to the world. We proclaim this message on the journey, back out along the same path by which we came to him, to show the others on the way where to find him.

Question for Reflection: Like the circular format of The Adoration of the Magi, how can Jesus be the center and focus of your life this Advent?

Stephan Rochefort is the House Manager of the FMS Intentional Community, Casa San Salvador.  In addition, he teaches theology at a Catholic high school in the Washington, D.C. area. He received his Master of Divinity degree from The Catholic University of America and has previously served as a campus minister and hospital chaplain. His theological interests include Carmelite Spirituality, Liturgy, and Catholic Social Teaching. 

The Adoration of the Magi

Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi, Adoration of the Magi, c. 1440/1460, 74 in x 67.5 in x 5 in, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/_wFPekHefj84QQ

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