Archive for Advent

Mary visits Elizabeth

Visitation, Huth Hours Add MS 38126, f.66v British Library

Visitation, Huth Hours, c.1480, Add MS 38126, f.66v, British Library. (Click to learn more.)


In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

Every tongue confess

Five Joyful Mysteries

Five Joyful Mysteries
from Catechetical Scenes: Grace and Holy Baptism by Rev. M. Coerezza, S.D.B.
Salesian Catechetical Centre c/o Tang King Po School, Hong Kong, 1957.


Conversion of Saul

The Conversion of Saul
from Catechetical Scenes: Grace and Holy Baptism by Rev. M. Coerezza, S.D.B.
Salesian Catechetical Centre c/o Tang King Po School, Hong Kong, 1957.



These pictures come from a 17-volume series of catechetical pop-up books created in 1957 by the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Roman Catholic religious institute whose primary focus is on Christian education of young people. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes the Salesian Society’s work this way: “In carrying out its principal work, instead of the old punitive or repressive system, it adopts the preventive one, thus promoting confidence and love among the children, instead of fear and hatred.”


Catechetical Scenes dust jacket

Dust Jacket blurb Catechetical Scenes



And while we’re visiting Asia, here’s a Christmas anthem from the Cheung Lo Church, Church of Christ in China.


Title: In Bethlehem A Babe Was Born (有一嬰孩生在馬槽)
Words / Music: John Carter
Chinese: 劉永生
Arrangement: 陳供生
Date: Sunday Service, December 23, 2012
Choir: Cheung Lo Church, Church of Christ in China (中華基督教會長老堂)



A people prepared

painting by Pieter Janssens Elinga, 1668-1672 Hermitage Museum Photo: Web Gallery of Art

painting by Pieter Janssens Elinga, 1668-1672
Hermitage Museum
Photo: Web Gallery of Art


And he will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God,
and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli′jah,
to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,
and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just,
to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.

(Gabriel speaking to Zechariah, from Luke 1)


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them;” he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

Revelation 21: 1-4

I hate to admit it, but about the only times my house is really top-to-bottom clean is when company’s coming. The rest of the time it’s a-lick-and-a-promise clean, with the debris of daily living strewn about, and the recycling waiting for me to take it out. It’s not terrible, but I’m just not one of those people who plans for sudden death by always leaving the house ready for people to come in and see it.

On the other hand, when folks are coming over I pull out the vacuum and scour the sinks and refresh the soap dispensers and put out the good hand towels. I will suddenly see dirt that was invisible for weeks, because I want my guests to be comfortable and to know that I made an effort for them. I don’t want to be trying to do things after they arrive. I want to be ready so I can give the visit my full attention.

If only company came every day….

Advent is a lot of that sort of preparation. We’re cleaning, we’re praying, we’re tidying up our homes and our hearts. Prepare!

If only Jesus came every day…

Perhaps that’s one reason why we say grace at the table:

“Komm, Herr Jesu; sei du unser Gast; und segne, was du uns bescheret hast.” 

“Come, Lord, Jesus, our Guest to be, And bless these gifts bestowed by Thee.”

May each year of preparation bring us closer to lives of constant readiness.


Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Collect for the 4th Sunday in Advent

The Golden Bible for Children

THe Golden Bible for Children: The New Testament illustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen Simon and Schuster, 1953

The Golden Bible for Children: The New Testament
illustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen
Simon and Schuster, 1953


Alice and Martin Provensen met in 1943 when they were both working for animation studios. They married in 1944 and went on to illustrate over 40 books together–including The Color Kittens by Margaret Wise Brown and A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard. Martin Provensen also designed Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger. Of their work together Alice said, “…we were a true collaboration. Martin and I really were one artist.” (Interview in Publisher Weekly, 7/16/2001, by Leonard S. Marcus)

Other illustrations from The Golden Bible may be seen on Flickr.

I love the way way the Provensen’s give us a sense of motion in the Flight to Egypt below. The lines that cut across the two parts of the pictures move us from left to right, but the soldiers are rigid and straight, while the Holy Family follows the angel’s outstretched arm as a gently curving hill flows across the panel. It’s a nice bit of storytelling–telling us both “The soldiers are coming!” and “The angel will help them escape” and giving us a picture that enables us to hold those ideas in our imagination simultaneously. The star-like flower shapes are used throughout the book to indicate the presence of angels or the Spirit.


Flight into Egypt Alice and Martin Provensen The Golden Bible for Children: The New Testament Simon and Schuster, 1953

Flight into Egypt
Alice and Martin Provensen
The Golden Bible for Children: The New Testament
Simon and Schuster, 1953

The Journey

    Story of Christmas cover

Journey to Bethlehem


Historia de la Navidad

The journey to Bethlehem from the beautifully illustrated The Story of Christmas by British artist, Jane Ray. Available in both English and Spanish, the colors are magnificent, the pictures are full of detail, and by the time the wise men appear the illustrations are almost like a dream. Stay tuned through Epiphany…


The Bible Story Cube unfolds

Birth of Jesus cover



opening cube


Annunciation Beginners Bible


Baby born


Cube box

Today’s Bible story illustration is not exactly a book. It’s the offspring of the hugely successful Beginners Bible and an award-winning “dimensional promotional product” the Magic Cube. With such parentage you’d think the Beginner’s Bible Story Cube would have taken over the world, but today they’re hard to find. Perhaps the company that made them was too small. Perhaps they were simply played out of existence.

To give you a bit of historical context, the original Beginner’s Bible,  written by Karyn Henley and illustrated by Dennas Davis, was in print from 1989-2004 and sold over 5 million copies–making it the best-selling Bible storybook of all time. There were many, many derivative products: books, CDs, video, toys, coloring pages, curricula, and The Beginner’s Bible became a franchise. The copyright is owned by James R. Leininger, a Texas physician, businessman, and political activist.

The Magic Cube was and is a tactile marketing object, and a multi-year winner of the Fidget Factor award (though a caveat here: I can’t discover who gives out that award). MagiCube websites proclaim, “Touch. Teach. Connect.” “right on your customer’s desktop” “deliver FUN with your advertising!”

At some point in the 1990’s, Good News Gifts must have licensed the pictures and story from Leininger to make Beginner’s Bible Story Cubes. Today Good News Gifts still markets a number of Story Cubes (and still priced at $6.95!), but they’re no longer branded “Beginner’s Bible” and the artwork has changed. (For that matter, The Beginner’s Bible has changed too, and the new edition is illustrated by Kelly Pulley.)

My story cube is just one of a number of the many ways people have come up with for children to play with Bible stories. There are Noah’s ark sets, plush whales with Jonah zipped inside, Almighty Heroes action figures, Nativity sets for little hands, and Godly Play activities. I find most of these pretty interesting as Christian material culture, but I have a soft spot for toy books and the unfolding cube. Maybe someday I’ll make my own.


Stick figures and line drawings

The Little Jetts Bible by Wade C. Smith W.A. Wilde Co., 1942

The Little Jetts Bible
by Wade C. Smith
W.A. Wilde Co., 1942

Isaiah 40

According to the foreword of Wade Cothran Smith’s  The Little Jetts Telling Bible Stories for Young Folks,

The Little Jetts sprang into being one Sunday afternoon when Mama was away and Daddy had to keep some little folks from missing her too much. He knew Mama had been in the habit of telling them Bible stories on Sunday afternoons, but dared not attempt to duplicate her style, knowing he would be “weighed in the balance and found wanting.” Thus came the necessity to offer novelty of some kind, and, with fountain-pen in hand, he set out upon the rather hazardous experiment (for a novice) of telling illustrated stories. Two things, however, were at once in his favor–a child’s wonderful imagination, which has no difficulty in seeing people in straight marks, and the delight of a child at seeing anything drawn, however crude.

The Little Jetts appeared at a time when a “chalk talks” (a sermon or talk presented while drawing) were very popular in America. Invented by a Methodist artist, Mr. Frank Beard, chalk talks soon spread to vaudeville and to Chautauqua gatherings. Eventually, this interest in watching drawings come magically alive would lead to animated films (through artists such as Winsor McCay), and eventually to Christian cartoons.

The Little Jetts Bible sat on a shelf in my parents’ bedroom and, peering at those pictures in the days before I could read, the Little Jetts always seemed a bit ant-like to me. The illustrations were small and intense and there was a lot of action that I couldn’t always interpret–which I suppose is what put me in mind of watching ants working in the back yard. I think I was also used to more elaborate children’s illustrations and Disney cartoons, so I didn’t perceive all the detail that was available to me.

Now that I can read the accompanying text, and can view the less sketchy book that’s available via the Internet Archive, I see what all the fuss was about. By showing us little, by suggesting much, the artist brings us into the storytelling. Wade C. Smith hoped that children might be inspired by the Little Jetts to draw their own pictures–perhaps right in the book!–to make a keepsake of their childhood familiarity with Bible stories.


This book may be read on Internet Archive

Published by Wade C. Smith, Richmond, Virginia, 1916.
This book may be read on Internet Archive


Thinking about the Little Jetts put me in mind of another illustrator, the wonderfully talented Annie Vallotton. In the 1960’s, Vallotton created roughly 500 line drawings to illustrate the American Bible Society’s Good News Bible. A paperback copy of the New Testament–Good News for Modern Man–was one of my go-to translations during high school and college, and Vallotton’s illustrations added much grace and lyricism to my experience of reading scripture.


I suppose that Annie Vallotton’s drawings were for me what the Little Jetts were for their time: something different, something that felt modern, something that made the Bible seem more like a great story and less like scripture. They were respectful, but not typical–which is a fine line to walk.


"I will bring your people home." Is. 43: 5 Annie Vallotton Good News BIble  American Bible Society, 1976

Annie Vallotton
Good News Bible
American Bible Society, 1976

B is for Bethlehem

A is for Augustus Illustration by Elisa Kleven

A is for Augustus
Illustration by Elisa Kleven
from B is for Bethlehem: A Christmas Alphabet by Isabel Wilner.

Jesus is coming! And that means it’s time to get out the bathrobes and head scarves and dust off those angel wings. Whether your church stages a well-practiced drama or holds a “come-on-the-day” pageant, Nativity plays are part of a tradition going back to the middle ages. If we don’t get all caught up in the politics of who gets to play Mary, they can be a lot of fun.

Here are two pictures from B is for Bethlehem: A Christmas Alphabet by Isabel Wilner and illustrated by Elisa Kleven–a lovely, imaginative telling of the Christmas story that works well as a pageant script or as a book to share with little people.  V is for Venite, but I won’t reveal what they do for X, Y, and Z.

F is for Flocks

F is for Flocks
Illustration by Elisa Kleven
from B is for Bethlehem: A Christmas Alphabet by Isabel Wilner.

Hills of the North, Rejoice!

Hills of the North, Rejoice

Words: Charles E. Oakley (1832-1865); first pub­lished in 1870
Tune: Little Cornard by Martin Shaw

According to the writer Ancientandmodern, “I learned a very important lesson from this hymn: the right words are the ones that were in your school hymnbook, and any other words are dead wrong.”

I suspect we’ve all felt that moment of strangeness in worship where you’re going along reciting the Lord’s Prayer or singing a familiar hymn, and you suddenly realize that the rest of the congregation is not using the same words you are. We can cope if we’re visiting a new church, but if it’s a new hymnal or liturgy book in our own church home–count yourself lucky if there’s no riot after the service!

This version by the Huddersfield Choral Society combines lyrics from two English hymnals: Ancient and Modern and The English Hymnal. Sung at a rousing good tempo, the resulting hybrid captures creation’s joy at Christ’s coming while omitting some of the imperialism found in earlier texts. There other meditative and more moderately-paced interpretations (some with different lyrics), but this one made me believe that the hills were rejoicing, so it’s the one I’ll share.

Hope your Advent preparations are going well.  Jesus is coming!


Hills of the North, rejoice;
River and mountain spring,
Hark to the advent voice;
Valley and lowland, sing;
Christ comes in righteousness and love,
He brings salvation from above.

Isles of the Southern seas,
Sing to the listening earth,
Carry on every breeze
Hope of a world’s new birth:
In Christ shall all be made anew,
His word is sure, his promise true.

Lands of the East, arise,
He is your brightest morn,
Greet him with joyous eyes,
Praise shall his path adorn:
The God whom you have longed to know
In Christ draws near, and calls you now.

Shores of the utmost West,
Lands of the setting sun,
Welcome the heavenly guest
In whom the dawn has come:
He brings a never-ending light
Who triumphed o’er our darkest night.

Shout, as you journey on,
Songs be in every mouth,
Lo, from the North they come,
From East and West and South:
In Jesus all shall find their rest,
In him the sons of earth be blest.


The Lord is with you

The Annunciation  Brother Eric de Saussure from The Taizé Picture Bible

The Annunciation
Brother Eric de Saussure
from The Taizé Picture Bible


Gabriel said to Mary, ‘Rejoice; you are highly honoured! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was very worried by these words and asked herself what all this could mean, but the messenger said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid; God is to do you a great honour. Listen! You are to have a son and you are to name him Jesus. He will be a great man and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; your son will rule over the descendants of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.’ Mary said to the messenger, ‘But how can this come about, since I do not yet have a husband?’ The messenger answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come to you and the power of the Most High God will be at work within you. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God.’ Mary said ‘I am at the service of the Lord for him to do to me what you have said.’ Then the messenger left her.

The Taizé Picture Bible, Stories from the Scriptures, adapted from the Jerusalem Bible with illustrations by Brother Eric de Saussure of the Taizé Community,  Fortress Press, 1969, pp. 178-180.


And from the Bradford Catholic Youth Choir, “O Mary of Promise”

“…may all of our journeys be blessed by your grace,
as when you said yes to the angel’s embrace.”