‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. — Matthew 3:11
In the candlelit darkness of last week’s Taize service I got to spend time with a powerful icon, the Virgin of the Sign. In this icon, Christ appears in a round aureole contained by the torso of the Theotokus, the Mother of God, who faces us full on, her arms raised in the orans position of prayer. Jesus is dressed in gold or celestial blue and holding a scroll. He gazes soberly out at us, his face radiating the wisdom and understanding of God.
This icon represents both the “not yet” and the “always” of Christ. In it Jesus is in the womb — Mary’s womb and the womb of the world. But he is also fully present with us, He who is the Word, the Way, the one who shows us God. He is both ancient and brand new, a child and a wise old man.
This icon has been written over and over again through the centuries by countless iconographers. In the particular icon at which I gazed the other night the aureole is full of night sky and stars. Christ is clothed in gold robes and his scroll is lifted up in his left hand, as though to say, “look here”. His right hand blesses us.
My heart is sore of late. The cruelty and callousness that underlie so many of the stories that I hear on the news sicken me. As I gazed at the icon the grief and worry I am feeling welled up and spilled out in a silent, wordless petition.
Nothing in the icon changed. Slowly a deep peace replaced the emotional storm I had been feeling, and I simply gazed at Christ in his starry hollow. Christ gazed back, radiating peace and steady love.
The promise of Advent is eternal, always countering the reigns of power, of corruption, of malice, and of fear. We serve a different Master.
I am filled with prayer for all those who are being wronged today. Surely we can do better! Hopefully you have found the particular areas of this massive problem that you can address with your energy and love. Each of us must do what we can.
And Christ is with us, gazing into our souls with the eyes of the peace that passes understanding. Challenging us to risk, encouraging us to love, he goes before us, showing us the way.
We baptize with water, but there is one coming who will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Come, blessed Redeemer, come.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer, spiritual director and writer living in Fort Collins, Colorado. To learn more about her, visit everydaymysteries.com.