Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas: It was, then, not a dream

The story is so familiar. Luke's gospel tells of the journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. It has been depicted countless times. But every version nuances the story in a particular way.

The version here is by American artist and illustrator N.C.Wyeth. Known for his illustrations for books like Treasure Island and Robin Hood, Wyeth also provided illustrations for short stories in magazines like Scribner's and Woman's Day and for products like Coca-Cola. The illustration here was one of two Wyeth illustrations that accompanied "The Stable of the Inn" in the December 1912 issue of Scribner's (Vol. LII, No. 6).

The short story, by Thomas Nelson Page, opens with Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem. The first illustration shows the couple on a rest stop, where they first encounter the shepherds they will see again. The second illustration is this: a scene in a cave where animals are stabled. But rather than a home for animals and feed, this stable is the birthplace of a baby who casts a most remarkable light.
Wyeth has made light the most pronounced and unique detail in this telling of the story. The light closest to the baby is white light. In the physics of light, white light is created by the presence and full blending of all wavelengths on the visible spectrum. Each wavelength is a different color of light.  The collection of colors becomes visible when the light passes through a prism and the wavelengths are fractured into their different lengths (colors).

Moving out from the baby in Wyeth's painting, the light blends from one color of the visible spectrum to another. Warm yellow becomes orange before changing again to a red. From red the light becomes red-violet before transitioning into violet and blue-violet, edging into the blue of the dawn outside the cave. Many color.

In this season of the year, the length of days has just turned. The shortest day of the year gives way (today!) to a day where the sun shines just a little bit longer today than it did yesterday. And it will shine a little longer each day. In this season of holy days, our candles offer light to a world that walks in darkness, and we wait for the light to shine on us. It is not a dream. It is a sign.

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