Love and Hope at the Heart of Christmas

Albrecht Dürer – The Holy Family with Three Hares, woodcut on laid paper, circa 1496

The early large scale woodcut print you see here is an image by the Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Produced around 1496, it comes from a series of prints he made illustrating scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary. This image is titled The Holy Family with Three Hares and demonstrates the artist’s extraordinary delicacy of line. It illustrates the qualities of love and hope at the heart of the Christmas story.

Influenced by the artistic life of his native Nuremberg this gifted and versatile artist uses the play of lines on Mary’s dress to give form and mass to her figure. The story of the nativity is told in an enclosed garden symbolising Mary’s innocence and obedience to God’s will. Beyond the garden wall a landscape stretches into the distance. In the garden hares play at Mary’s feet – symbols of Christian love, fertility and protection. The angels hold a crown above the Virgin’s head reminding the viewer of Mary’s role as queen of heaven. She holds a lively looking baby Jesus on her lap. As Joseph watches over his family Mary stares into the distance. The infant Christ, the Word of God, reads the Bible which foretells his life and what will come to pass. The beautifully conceived scene is framed against a landscape with its detailed perspective.

It was Dürer’s woodcuts and engravings which established his reputation and influence.

To produce a woodblock print the artist’s design is pasted to the block so that the engraver can cut the image into the wood. The printer would then print the image.

As you read this I and millions of Christians across the country will be preparing to celebrate that very first Christmas when God came among us as a baby in a manger. Mary’s response to God’s calling and love is acceptance, obedience and service. Her example continues to inspire us.

There has been much to challenge us this year as Covid and its impact has continued to evolve. Whilst there have been points of personal tragedy and heartbreak the response of so many has been generous and hope filled. Our common story remains one of both of joy and sorrow.

People over the ages have often talked of value in terms of the material; by this standard, Mary and Joseph had little and yet they knew that they had been richly blessed. They shared the gift of their child with the world. This gift was so precious, so valuable that even the angels rejoiced and praised God. What was being celebrated was love.

Most of us have been expectantly preparing for Christmas as we hope to be able to welcome or journey to our loved ones. Our processions towards Christmas day will be a little more uncertain and different again this year.

I hope that like Mary and Joseph we will be inspired to share what we have with the world through acts of generosity and kindness, especially in these times. The message of Christmas is that hope comes out of our love and care for others. It is a joyful and hope filled message.

It remains for me to wish you and those you love a very happy and blessed Christmas. Keep safe.