2013 Christmas Stamps Speak to Common Humanity

2013 Christmas Stamps Speak to Common Humanity November 25, 2013

Apparently while I was on vacation, I missed a wee brouhaha about a US Postal Service ad that managed to promote “Holiday” stamps without including the Christmas-themed ones, and nary a Christian image in sight.

Well, if you haven’t seen them, yet, here they are:

I love this year’s Madonna selection, “Virgin and Child” by Jan Gossaert — I like how Mary presents her son and Lord to with a casual open gesture, while also resting her head on her hand as we mothers do, partly in wonder and partly in weariness. She ponders all things in her heart.

But, I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see the return of the “Flight into Egypt” stamp, which really spoke to me, last year:

At a time when the whole world seems to be changing before our eyes like a tape on fast-forward — with economies being shattered, social norms being challenged and even the security of constitutional freedoms being penetrated — we see the a family uprooted from everything they know, everything “normal” and comfortable and familiar. Not only are they are unable to simply “go back” to the way things were, they are being led into something wholly different, with nothing to go on, but trust.

A man, a woman and a baby, moving against a whole world of uncertainty, injustice and danger.

And how great to see Joseph included in this image. At a time when men — and especially fathers — are portrayed as buffoonish punchlines or optional accessories, we have here a reassuring reminder that fathers are valuable and good, and essential.

There is much consolation in this lovely picture. In the Crucifix we encounter “The God Who Knows” — the one who understands our feelings of fear, abandonment, betrayal, shame, thirst. Here we see “The God Who Knows” familial anxiety, too, and social separation, material deprivation and — perhaps again — thirst. His step-father, obedient to something as ephemeral as a dream, placed everything into the hands of divine providence and led them into new terrain, seeking wells and watering holes as they traveled; his mother drank, that the infant might be nourished. This is a God who has been part of a family unit that worked like a closed circuit of surety and continuance, and a God who also knew all of its stresses.

There is nothing going on in the world, or in our personal spheres, for which scripture and the life of the Christ does not offer an instructive correlation, if only we bother to turn to God, instead of away; if only we bother to seek it out. This stamp, this image, is an invitation to the whole world to trust God because he is always faithful. It says “Ephphatha!”; it says, “I know the plans I have for you…”; it says “fear not, I am with you…”; it says “do not worry about tomorrow…”.

A true student of art, like Simcha Fisher, might be able to explain the artist’s use of symbol in this year’s Madonna stamp — or I supposed I could dig out my copy of The Art of Faith by Judith Couchman — but my lazy take on it is that the portrait speaks to what is a human constant: the way we retreat into our thoughts and ponder what is dear to us, even as we must let it go. And the other speaks to change.

As lovely as some of the Christmas er, excuse me, holiday designs are this year, the Christian ones have something to say to our shared human experience and that makes them, in a sense — even in our terribly polarized era — the most “inclusive” of designs.

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