The Icon of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

This is a traditional icon of The Nativity. The early church used icons to tell the story—theology in imagery. There is so much to tell and to be seen!

For starters, notice that Joseph is off to the bottom left. This is his proper position in the Nativity icon. Think of the Gospel account – Joseph is righteous and protects Mary and Jesus, but he is not involved in the miracle of the incarnation of the Son of God.

The old man speaking to him represents the devil bringing new doubts to Joseph. “How can a virgin give birth? You know that is impossible! God does not become human! How can this be?” He is tempting Joseph to doubt the incarnation.


Some angels are glorifying God, tending to the action and ministering while another angel proclaims good news to the shepherds.

The figure to the right of Mary is the Prophet Isaiah and to her left are the Magi.

The two women on the bottom right are the midwives which tradition says Joseph summoned. They are shown here to indicate that Jesus was born in the normal way and would have needed washing, as a regular human baby would.

Notice that the manger is like a casket, and Jesus’ swaddling clothes are very much like the grave clothes discovered by the women at the tomb following his resurrection.

The tree below the baby is the “Jesse Tree” from Isaiah’s prophesy, which says that a shoot will sprout from the stump (tree) of Jesse (the father of King David). The ox and the ass are also from Isaiah’s prophecy, “The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib.”

Mary occupies the center of the icon signifying that the incarnation was not only the work of God but also the work of the will and faith of the Virgin. Jesus was able to take flesh because the humanity in Mary gave him that possibility. Even though she is mother, she turns away from her child to welcome us all, recognizing in us the birth of her child.


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