The Maternal Embrace

I love this icon so much.

There are so many images of the Nativity in which Mary is looking down with gentle reverence or praying to Jesus or even just merely joyful, but this one is special to me because of the fierceness of Mary’s face. She is holding tightly onto Jesus, a protective look on her face, while Jesus clings to her, as babies do so well.

In the meantime, lots of things happen all around her. An angel appears to a shepherd, speaking glad tidings and causing him to go and find the Christ. The donkey that Joseph brought Mary on and a cow eat together from a manger. An older woman and an older man — perhaps the man is St. Joseph! — work together to put water in a basin to clean everything up. To the very bottom, a man in a royal robe offers a church to Mary and Jesus.

But, even though so much is going on, Mary’s eyes are fixated on Jesus, as He is the only thing that matters to her.

Nativity, by Master of Vyšší Brod, c. 1350. Národni Galerie, Prague, Czechia. Via
Nativity, by Master of Vyšší Brod, c. 1350. Národni Galerie, Prague, Czechia.

Honestly, it reminds me a lot of my own experience having my children. My husband tells me that, in the hospital room when I have just delivered a baby, there are tons of people — nurses, doctors, medical technicians — that swarm the room and assist in the delivery. Yet, whenever I deliver a baby, I don’t notice them. My full concentration is on my child.

I want to embrace my child.

And so, I love this icon, because it shows us Mary embracing and loving Jesus, her child, in such a protective manner.

It reminds me of two absolutely beautiful things:

First, it reminds me that the love that Mary has for Jesus is what we should all strive for. Mind you, sometimes we aren’t in a position to love Jesus in that particular intimate way. Sometimes, we need to be on our knees, such as the donor. Sometimes we need to work with our hands and take care of others, as St. Joseph and the midwife. Sometimes, we need to search for Christ, just as the shepherd. Sometimes we need to proclaim the love of Christ, as the angel. But, as we grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus, we should strive to have that intimate encounter through a robust prayer life.

Second? It reminds me how powerful Mary’s maternal love is. And, as we are her children by adoption, she is willing to show us the same love that she shows Christ.

Questions to Ponder:
  • What is the first thing that draws you to this picture? Why do you think that is?
  • Look carefully at Mother Mary’s expression. What emotions do you think are going through Mother Mary’s mind?
  • In this picture, there are many people around doing different things, including the worker, the seeker, the proclaimer, and the adorer. Which one represents you at the moment in your own relationship with Jesus?


Dear Jesus,

During this Christmas season, let us draw closer to You and receive You more fully.


This picture is one of many pictures that is featured in my new book, The Joyful Mysteries! Learn more about the book here.

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of four, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer.

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