I had a hard time finding out much about this painting. Witz, a Swiss painter born in Germany, is known for painting three altarpieces that have only partially survived but I don’t believe this is from one of those altarpieces. I do know the larger piece it comes from is called “The Counsel of Redemption.” But enough of trying to be artfully correct.
Last Sunday, I admired a painting because it moved past all the conventions of “holy” art. This week all those conventions are back. Here we see Mary and Elizabeth greeting each other (Luke 1:39-56), each pregnant with their miracle babies. Mary is a virgin (shown by her loosely worn hair); Elizabeth is an older matron (shown by her headdress and wrinkles). Notice that the halos for each are worked into the rich fabric backdrop.
Also notice that Elizabeth’s baby, John the Baptist, is bowing before the Christ-child, even in the womb. And, of course, each baby sports a halo as well. All kinds of holiness going on in this scene. Isn’t it telling that at the center of this holiness, the two women are posed to embrace? That is what Christmas is about, isn’t it? The holy reaching down to embrace this fragile, fallen world.
Each infant looks so warm and cozy. What a shock awaits them when the coldness of the world replaces the warmth and safety of the womb. Here, at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, it is hard to think about what he will experience at the end of his earthly life. The same goes for John.
It’s cold outside today. I think of where I turn for warmth and comfort. Surely my home is at the top of the list, with my slippers, cozy blanket, fireplace and cats who long to sleep on my lap. All of these things make me want to stay in and not think about the outside temperature, but I must go out, right? Living requires it.
Being Human connection: Jesus must go out too—from the womb, the manger, the temple, the Garden. Salvation requires it. But for now, I would like him to stay in—with me. I want him to be here, in front of me with arms open, ready to embrace. Who wouldn’t welcome a hug these days? Holy Jesus, stay a while. Let me feel your warmth. Amen.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:41-42)
Featured image: Konrad Witz, The Visitation, ca. 1444