Victoria Emily Jones also notes that, to illustrate the truth that “Jesus Christ was born for all people of all times”, Christians around the world, including during the Renaissance, often depicted him “as coming into their own culture, in the present time”. This realisation also provides one way to search for images of the nativity more relevant to our own cultures and time. Jones has made this a particular feature of her independent research on Christianity and the arts.
Noting that “the center of Christianity has shifted”, being “no longer in the West”, she suggests that, if we survey the Christian art being produced today, we will see that “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and the settings they inhabit, have a much different look”. Mary may be “dressed in a sari or a hanbok”, Jesus “wrapped in buffalo skin, or silk” and, instead of oxen and asses, we may “see lizards and kangaroos”. As she writes, “Historical accuracy is not the point; the point is to see Jesus as the Savior of your own people, as incarnated very close to you, and relevant to life today”. Accordingly, she has provided online two series of contextualised images of the Nativity painted within the last century with each work bringing “Jesus into a different place, in order to emphasize the universality of his birth”.
Additionally, she also made use of a meditation I had written, which has as its refrain the plea “Come, Lord Jesus, come”, to create an Advent series of images and reflections exploring “what it meant for Jesus to be born of woman—coming as seed and fetus and birthed son”. Again, in her selection of images, she took “special care to select images by artists from around the world, not just the West, and ones that go beyond the familiar fare”. As a result, in ‘Come, Lord Jesus, Come’, there are images of “the Holy Spirit depositing the divine seed into Mary’s womb; Mary with a baby bump, and then with midwives; an outback birth with kangaroos, emus, and lizards in attendance; Jesus as a Filipino slum dweller; and Quaker history married to Isaiah’s vision of the Peaceable Kingdom”.
Her hope is that “these images fill you with wonder and holy desire—to know Christ more and to live into the kingdom he inaugurated two thousand-plus years ago from a Bethlehem manger”. She quotes S. D. Gordon’s “succinct summary of the Incarnation” - Jesus coming into this world as both God and human being - “Jesus was God spelling Himself out in language humanity could understand” in order to suggest that these images “celebrate the transcendent God made immanent, accessible” and “celebrate his new name: Emmanuel, God-with-us”.
Whether you are looking to continue the tradition of sending Christmas cards through the post or will be sending digital greetings to family and friends, looking for, creating or commissioning nativity images that depict Jesus coming in your culture and your time continues to offer a significant way of showing the wonder of the incarnation to others. And, if you do so, while being entirely contemporary, you will also be firmly rooted in art history and church tradition.
Explore more nativity art
Victoria Emily Jones has curated two collections of nativity art.: 2011 collection, and 2015 collection.
She has also compiled an Advent Slideshow and Devotional for Art & Theology.
Visit BAME Anglicans' Paintings of the Nativity From Around the World.