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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Christmas Reflection 1949

Looking Back

Friday December 18 2020

Looking Back: "She Has Eyes Only For Him"

In a Christmas reflection from 1949, the Rev G. B. Hewitt considers artistic interpretations of the nativity.


Botticelli Nativity

FROM the catacombs to Jacob Epstein, from Byzantium to Bourdelle, in tempera, on glass, on canvas, in wood and stone, men have been drawing, painting, sculpting the Christmas scene and the Virgin and Child. Mary and her Son have been an everlasting and inexhaustible theme for the artist in every generation. Sometimes she is shown us amid all the voluptuousness of a Renaissance court, sometimes in the hard, bitter angularity of our modern world. Mary is now Italian, now Dutch; she is a mere slip of a girl, she is a mature woman; she is a rough peasant, she is like a queen.

But in spite of all the differences of interpretation there is one constant feature: Mary’s head, her eyes. At Christmas time she and her Son are never alone, there are never just the two of them; this heavenly Boy and His Mother are a spectacle; the public is there. No event calling for such privacy has ever invited such publicity as the birth of Jesus.

In every picture Joseph stands still, an ageing figure, bemused at all these kings, creaking with gold, under his roof, vying with one another in gifts and obeisance. And the timid, hesitant shepherds shrink to one side, their rough, homely plaids an odd contrast to all this rustling silk. Courtiers disdainfully throng the stable yard, serried soldiers mass outside, angels look and listen, and with scroll and trumpet proclaim the news far and wide.

Sometimes the cradled Babe gazes up at His maiden mother, sometimes sitting on her knee He looks out on to this world of seething traffic and milling crowds. For in the pictures the whole world is astir.

You feel the whole world has come to see, and that the stable has been opened up in a miraculous way for everyone to look straight in, just as the whole front of a doll’s house can be swung back. That is the way the stable in Bethlehem lies open, and all the world comes to have a look, stands and stares a bit, and then goes on its way, goes back, goes home, the shepherds to the hillside, the Magi to their stars, the ox to the plough, the ass to its load, the courtiers to their levees, the soldiers to their parades.

But Mary never sees this coming and going, this fuss and commotion. She never looks up, her eyes never follow you round; no matter where you stand you can’t gaze into them. Though her heart this night is ablaze like all the stars of heaven, she hangs her head and bends her eyes – not in shame, but because she has eyes for no one except her child.

She who knows God best has eyes only for His Son. The world swirls about her, but the world for her is this Child. She gazes at Him with the wrapt attention of a mystic. She sees only the Child in her lap, filling her eyes, filling her world. You are compelled to follow her gaze.

Mary knows nothing except her own unreasoned obedience, compelled by pure love. She is the first Christian obedient, the first believer.

In our homes this Christmas there will be the same busyness, the same stir, the same flurry and scurry, the same excitement. It is a bustle that neither can nor must be neglected. Mary was quite content to be in the middle of it, she and her Child. And we in the middle of ours can take, as a symbol of what our attitude should be, her head and her eyes, those eyes so fascinated by the purpose of God, those eyes seeing not the bustle but only the wonder of the Incarnation, eyes only for her Lord and her God. If only we could attain that attitude this Christmas, if only Christ, born in our midst, were to fill our eyes, our horizon, our whole world!

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