John Harvey: Blog

Intersections of image, sound, and word

Robin Redbreast

Christmas card. jpg.jpg

This is an old Welsh legend related to robin redbreast:

‘It was on the day when Lord Jesus felt his pain upon the bitter cross of wood that a small and tender bird, which had hovered awhile around, drew nigh, about the seventh hour, and nestled upon the wreath of Syrian thorns. And when the gentle creature of the air beheld these cruel spikes, the thirty and three, which pierced that bleeding brow, she was moved with the compassion and piety of birds; and she sought to turn aside, if but one of those thorns, with her fluttering wings and her lifted feet! It was in vain! She did but rend her own soft breast, until blood flowed over her feathers from the wound! Then said a voice from among the angels: “Thou has done well, sweet daughter of the boughs! Yea, and I bring thee tidings of reward: Henceforth, from this hour, and because of this deed of thine, it shall be that, in many a land, thy race and kind shall bear upon their bosoms the hue and banner of thy faithful blood; and the children of every house shall yearn with a natural love towards the birds of the ruddy breast, and shall greet their presence, in its season, with the voice of thanksgiving!”’

The Christmas robin associates Jesus’ nativity and crucifixion. In Christian theology, his birth is regarded as profoundly purposeful; he was born to die: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1.15). From the outset of his life, that mission was made manifest. The angels spoke to the shepherds: ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour’ (Luke 2.11). Some thirty-three years later, the fulfillment of that role would require his self-sacrifice – a bloody and brutal affair. Thus, Christmas casts a shadow in the direction of Easter.


(Photograph courtesy of Kim Harvey)


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