Monday, November 25, 2013

King and Kin (The Infant Jesus of Prague)

King and Kin

My mother has a statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague like the one pictured above on a dresser in her bedroom.  She changes its robes fairly often, but not necessarily according to the official colors of the liturgical season:  green, for example, the color for Ordinary Time, might show up at Christmas and alternate with red, a color usually reserved for the feasts of martyrs.  As a child, I was fascinated by this child-statue, with its oft-changing yet somewhat formal appearance; as an adult, I now appreciate its profound symbolism.

I suppose it’s not surprising that this image should come back to me as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, for this Holy Infant is just that:  a child dressed in royal robes, both kin and king.  Christ’s royal nature is illustrated by his left hand, which holds a globe topped with a cross, a symbol of Christ’s kingship; this status is seconded by the crown on his head.  Yet Jesus’s human nature is not neglected.  He is after all portrayed as a child, small and vulnerable, the kind of child you might want to take up into your arms.  His humanity is also inscribed in his gesture.  The two first fingers of the statue’s right hand point upward, together, a symbol of Jesus’s dual natures:  he is human and divine, both, simultaneously.  The two remaining fingers and the thumb of his right hand come together across his palm, a symbol of the Trinity.  (It is a gesture of blessing still used today by the Pope.)  The New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has noted that the prophecy from Isaiah, The Lord has bared his holy arm in the sight of all the nations (Is 52:10), is fulfilled in the tiny arm of the infant Jesus poking its way out of his manger-bed.  The two images are wedded in the statue of the Infant of Prague.

As we consider the Feast of Christ our King, let us not forget that Christ’s kingship is inextricably tied to Jesus’s humanity:  he is at once king and kin, no matter the season.  And as we are baptized priest, prophet and king, so are we called to live out that kinship in our service to other, and to the world.

For more on the story of the statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague, click here.
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