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Contact: Udo Bauer 020 7723 9276 or u.bauer@german-ymca.org.uk



2017 Christmas Card - A Christmas Triptych

English / DeutschOne of my first observations when I came to England sixty years ago was the importance of the Christmas card. It seemed to be more highly valued than any other gift for Christmas. Cards were exchanged even between people in contact with each other every day, including the members of the same family. Furthermore, there was the odd distinction between Christmas cards and religious Christmas cards. All this goes back to Victorian times, when in 1843, Henry Cole, the first director of the V&A, introduced the first commercially produced Christmas card. It was also the year that Charles Dickens wrote the story A Christmas Carol. Becoming immensely important events for Christmas, they demonstrated however an attitude that had nothing to do with the Nativity. The first card and those that followed, as well as Dickens' writing, depicted 'merry making' of various kind, combined with traditional moral belief and humanism. Cole's card shows in the centre a family feasting and left and right charitable acts.

The concept of a triptych in the first card design is the only similarity with my card for 2017. It is based on two verses in Luke 1, from the song of the priest Zechariah, known as the 'Benedictus': Because of God's tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace. In this, Zechariah follows the visions of the great prophets in the Old Testament: The people walking in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9.2).
Having no visual reality to draw from, the only means to transform Zechariah's prophesy of the advent of the Messiah was through allegories and symbols the Bible provided.

The centre of the card is dominated by the light from heaven, firmly anchored to the world through the crib. This image is complemented by seven flames, seven being the holy number made up of three (God) and four (world), God and world united. The flames represent here the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, for which the church of old provides several lists. One is taken from Isaiah 11: wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. To these six is added love as the greatest gift, cited in the epistles of the Apostle Paul, most famous in 1 Corinthians 13. Martin Luther commented on this: “If someone wanted to paint a good likeness of God, he needed to make a picture that would be pure love”.

The left side represents darkness in the shadow of death. This can be depicted in numerous ways, drawn from personal experiences or daily examples worldwide. The right hand side is to show the immeasurable effect of light, because the light from heaven does not remain static in the centre, but radiates outward. As I worked in my picture with pressed flower material, I chose the wonders of nature as representatives of paradise, flowers being here a widely recognised symbol. They are the children of light.

All is held together by the rainbow, the sign of God's everlasting covenant with his people. This is surely what Zechariah meant, when he sung of the path of peace, the 'shalom', salvation. I nearly made the mistake and let the rainbow disappear in dark clouds. But when we see a rainbow, it always stays in front of whatever dark forces gather behind it. What better symbol of faith in the eternal presence of God in his trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit can we have? And herein lies the legitimate reason for celebration, a 'Happy Christmas'.

Bernd Hildebrandt


 
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