Then we remembered all of our art history classes and realized that, while a picture may speak for itself, it’s hard to predict what it will say. I mean, what if the Christmas motif was just a vehicle or a symbol for some other message? Like, we’re having a child out of wedlock without even violating the law of chastity! Or, we’re moving to Egypt! Or, look how many scarves Amanda has!
Hehehe. We decided to let it simmer overnight.
Truth is, none of those messages was intended (except maybe the last one — girl has a gazillion scarves) — our tableau is just a straightforward representation of the Savior’s birth as it would have looked if someone like, say, Wes Anderson had been art director instead of Saint Luke.
It’s a powerful composition, one that can tell us a lot about the meaning of life and spirituality and the stuff in Amanda’s apartment. Let’s take the elements one by one:
First, you have the new father, who, at great risk to life and limb, has just accomplished his first swaddling and is now wondering, “Is it bad for my eternal salvation if I am allergic to the Baby Jesus?”
(It’s worth observing, too, how Joseph’s scarf is wrapped in the traditional Moroccan manner, which suggests that, in addition to being a humble carpenter, he also has traveled widely during his university years.)
Then there is the Virgin Mary, who is just happy they made it to the stable in time — and who also has no intention of letting Joseph out of swaddling duty, “allergies” or no.
To Mary’s left (our right) stand the three wise men. One of them looks a lot like William Shakespeare, but if you look closely, you can see that the resemblance is only in the head. The other one actually is Sancho Panza — apparently he was kind of a big deal in the Middle East before he moved to Spain and started hanging out with Don Quixote. As for the black king (who is black because one of the kings is always black), nobody knows what is name is or where he came from — based on skin color, some historians posit that he is from Africa, but that theory fails to account for his obviously Asian elephant.
Swinging around the front of the table, we encounter a black rectangle that, from the rear, looks like an iPhone. But that would be anachronistic, because iPhones didn’t exist at the time of Our Lord and Savior’s birth. Instead, it’s a digital portal that allows Joseph and Mary to see Jeanette-Isabella, who went to get a torch and, in so doing, became the first Olympic torchbearer in history.
On the other side of the stable, we find the famous shepherds who were keeping watch with their flocks by night. Or, more accurately, two shepherdesses who belong to a latino-russian women’s cooperative that raises miniature llamas for their wool. The Latina shepherdess is clearly enjoying Christ’s birth (her family has been Catholic for generations), but her Russian colleague seems to be more focused on the babe in the mirror than the Heavenly Babe. (She later came to grief when she forgot to fill up on oil before the wedding feast.)
|Note the ever-attentive sheepcat keeping an eye on
the one straying from the ninety-and-nine.
Hovering over the entire scene is an angel, which symbolizes the actual angel who announced the birth of Christ to the shepherdesses.
|Don’t be thrown by its resemblance to a wooden bird — some angels
take on alternate identities for security reasons
As we consider each of these elements that make up one of the most iconic gatherings of all time, we should reflect on the value of family and the blessings that we receive daily from on high. And we should recognize that it all could have turned out very differently. For example, Joseph could have had a seizure and died from his baby allergies, leaving Mary to raise her child alone . . .
Or, the angel with the lilly could have made the Annunciation to the wrong half of the couple, resulting in an even stranger single-parent situation (because what woman would marry a pregnant man, even if the conception was immaculate?) . . .
Or, we could have ended up at the wrong stable altogether and given a lot of unwanted attention to a couple struggling to cope with the fact that they had just given birth to a demon cat.
But again, none of those things happened — and for that we are all eternally grateful. So, joy to the world, and to all a good night.