This picture, taken by Christopher Chan in 2007, is of the Grotto of the Nativity – traditionally, the very spot where Jesus was born. It can be found on Flickr.com.
This picture provides us with a stark contrast to the traditional artwork of Christ’s birth. Normally we will find Mary – who of course is a wealthy European woman – with a halo glowing above her head. In her lap is a healthy blond-haired, blue-eyed boy. And all around them are wise men, shepherds, and angels them in deep veneration.
But this picture brings us back to reality. The truth is that she was a young poor girl; pregnant, but not by her husband, terrified, and forced to give birth in a cave. This picture humbles Christmas. It is a reminder of the nature of Jesus’ birth and life. These candles show respect to those humble origins. In fact, it may only take a stiff wind to suddenly transform this space from the sacred to the ordinary. Leaving it much like it was two thousand years ago – a cold, dark, damp hole.
Sometimes we forget, under the layers of so many traditions, just how miraculous things were in the very way they happened. Jesus, the Word made flesh and Savior of all humankind, was born on a cold night, in a dark cave, in the company of livestock. So this picture, unlike ones of Mary as the throne of God, gives us a story that seems somehow so much more miraculous. -- Patrick Darnell