In this miniature, we see the Tree of Jesse, a visualisation of Christ’s ancestry inspired by Isaiah’s prophecy: “There will come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse and a flower will rise up out of his root”. This is joined by pictures of the Annunciation (the announcement by the archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would become the mother of Jesus), the birth of Christ, and the angel bringing the good news to the shepherds. Roundels in the corners of the frame show Old Testament prophets.
The unknown Parisian artist, who painted the miniature in the mid-1200s, has captured many of the elements that make up the Christmas story familiar to us today, showing the coming of Christ linked to the history of God’s dealings with His people, and involving elements beyond our earthbound experience.
But, despite its beauty and the gold leaf, the picture reminds us that this was a real birth, at a definite time and place, and made an impact on the lives of real people. Our own Christmas should be about more than tinsel, but include room for the search for peace and justice, and preparation for the coming of God’s Kingdom that will be the focus of our Advent worship.