During the Autumn of 2015 when clergy thoughts turn to Advent I began a series of 4 painting in an icon style. They were painted on A5 canvas board with acrylics, they have a painted gold border and are mounted into black float frames. During the 1980’s the four Sundays in Advent were each attributed to a particular aspect of the promise of the Messiah, this is one of the many ways to approach Advent. One of the aims of this series was to use a limited range of colours. This first painting uses the dark blue of a night sky for its background a colour which is repeated in a companion piece that was done for Christmas itself and you can find seperately here.
This the first is titled ‘Introducing the Matriarchs and Patriarchs’.
Just who are the patriarchs? For it is usually the patriarchs alone who get the nod on Advent Sunday. Usually the answer is Abraham and Moses with maybe David thrown in. The rationale I believe was to highlight that the wait for a Messiah is as old as time, one could say it began when the fig was worn and the angels were placed at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. So if we are going to look back to the beginning of the wait we need to go further back than Abraham, and if this waiting is something that everyone then we need to include the matriarchs as well. Also if we are to fully embrace what the wait is about we need to include the richness of lessons those earliest of God’s people learnt and can teach us.
In this violet sky amongst the other stars are some icons representing some of those Matriarchs and Patriarchs. There are some symbols which you might struggle to decipher due to my love of painting far surpassing my ability to actually paint. Therefore below is a key to the symbols of the 15 Matriarchs or Patriarchs I have chosen to represent along with the Biblical Chapter relating to the symbol.
This the second in the series is titled ‘Oil of Prophesy and Righteousness’.
The second Sunday in Advent has associations with the Prophets, while the Prophets in turn have associations with Oil, while the Olive is renowned for being a sign of peace. This week the background colour is one of the traditional Advent colours, violet.
Golden drops of God’s anointing, for kings, and the sick.
Golden drops to feed God’s people, souls and minds, bodies and flesh.
Golden drops to bless and cleanse.
Golden drops to refresh and challenge.
To get those blessings, those anointings, healings, feedings, first the olives need to be pressed. It is easy to look at Biblical figures and think of them as especially holy, yet the prophets struggled just as we do. Actually most Biblical figures struggled as we do some of them even more so All the prophets fought against what God wanted them to do, at least in the beginning. Some purposefully took the opposite route, for a while at least. They didn’t really want to say the tough stuff that people needed to hear, they knew in the speaking of it people would turn against them. We need to learn not only from what the prophets said but also from what they did, eventually despite all their own misgivings and fears they followed God and put all their own thoughts aside.
In this offering there are 5 olives representing the five major prophets and 12 drops of oil representing the 12 minor prophets. Of course I would normally argue that John the Baptist and other Old Testament figures who do not have a prophetic book named after them should be included. However, as John gets his own day next week and some of those who could be called prophets can also be called patriarchs and were included last week, I stuck to the eponymous prophets. Showing the olives on the branch also highlights a recurring prophesy about the Messiah will come from the linage of King David, what is often referred to during Advent as David’s Branch.
The third in the series is titled ‘A Loud Whisper’
The third Sunday in Advent is also known as Gaudete Sunday, a day when we rejoice that the promises made by God have been fulfilled in the past and we can trust that the one which promises a Messiah will be too. The colour of Advent is lightened to rose pink hence the colour of this background.
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus refers to John the Baptist as a reed shaken by the wind. The wind in question of course being the Holy Spirit. When reeds shake they whisper, but John the Baptist whom we remember today didn’t whisper, John spoke boldly calling all to be prepared, hence the title of this painting. I wanted to have a different image of John the Baptist from those which are usually portrayed. Often he is portrayed as a bloody head separated from the rest of his body, or a 1st century Worzel Gummidge long hair and beard with scruffy clothing. Neither of these images hold for me the rationale for John the Baptist being associated with the 3rd Sunday in Advent. John is the voice reminding the people of God’s promises, the cry to remember that God is faithful and just, the reed that whispers, very, very loudly. Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing in Advent.
Rejoicing is rarely done quietly it is usually a noisy affair, but the rejoicing that John was proclaiming was different. Repent, John cried, be like a reed in the wind ready to bend to the wind of the Spirit. People want to rejoice, but rejoicing sometimes comes from the most unexpected of places. Saying sorry for things we have done or not done can bring about rejoicing as bridges are built and fractures healed. The rejoicing is not a look at me, look at God.
The last in this Advent series is called ‘Blessed be the Fruit of Thy Womb’
One of the many, and maybe lesser known, symbols which are used for the Virgin Mary is that of the pear. – the pear isn’t yet fully golden (there is a green tinge to the the gold which doesn’t quite come across in the photograph) like it will be depicted in the trees were the Partridge – Christ – sits as those 12 days of Christmas begin. The waiting, the expectations, yes even the fear – for childbirth often meant death for child, mother or both – continues for a short while longer.
Mary’s brave yes has inspired and encouraged people down through the centuries. On the last Sunday of Advent there is often a rush to move into Christmas, but the time is not yet upon us, we still have a few more days to reflect with Mary. Just what are the hopes, the dreams, the challenges God has set before us; and what are the fears, the worries, the anxieties that we must face if our yes to God’s will is to be fully realised? In today’s world with all our medical knowledge and advancements the exact date of a baby’s birth can not be accurately given, neither can Christ’s return, just at Mary didn’t know the day or hour when her son would be born, we do not know the hour nor the day when our meeting with Jesus face to face will take place.
One of Advent’s great themes is that of preparation, preparation not just for Christmas for welcoming the Christ Child, but also preparation for the end of our earthly life when Christ the King will welcome us. That final welcome will surely be, in part at least, a reflection of how we have welcomed him, not just at Christmas, but each and every day, in each and every person and each and every situation.
The background for this final picture in the series is blue that some use for Advent and is often associated with Mary.