The following is taken from Orthodox Road – Rediscovering Ancient Christianity
This is the nativity icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church that has a couple of extra points that I find intriguing.
There are the usual shepherds and angels and magi celebrating the birth of the Messiah.
However, at the bottom left is Joseph. The story is that after the birth of Jesus he walked out of the cave and was greatly battling doubts. The figure next to him is supposed to be the devil who is, of course, not making it any easier on him. We may sing “What Child is This?” but Joseph’s question was “Whose child is this?!” since he knew he was certainly not the father.
Mary is facing Joseph instead of Jesus, which is rare in any icon featuring both Jesus and Mary. She is concerned about him and interceding for him. Jesus lies next to Mary wrapped in grave clothes foreshadowing his coming death.
Joseph also has a halo, indicating he is a saint of the Orthodox Church. He wrestled with doubt even after God incarnate had physically come into his life. It makes me wonder if the shepherds appeared after Jesus’ birth more for Joseph’s sake than anything else.
At the bottom right Jesus is being cleaned up by midwives to show his humanity (that he was fully God and fully human) and that he had a messy birth just as the rest of us have.
As you celebrate this Christmas season, rest in the fact that our Savior has come into this world and our lives to embrace every messy, doubting part of us. There is nothing in you that pushes him away from you. And there is nothing that you have done that he has not already helped someone else through, someone else who is considered a saint.
To read more about the gritty drama of the Nativity, check out an ancient document called The Protevangelium of James (which can be read freely here on my site). It was written in the first one hundred years of the Church and it regards all of the anguish and drama in the life of Mary and Joseph.