Christmas, Day 12: Bright and Glorious

LOOK: Epiphany by John August Swanson

Swanson, John August_Epiphany
John August Swanson (American, 1938–2021), Epiphany, 1988. Serigraph, 38 × 12 in. Edition of 210. [for sale]

Tomorrow, January 6, is the feast of Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the magi to the infant Christ, an episode that represents God’s manifestation to the nations beyond Israel. Printmaker John August Swanson visualizes their journey in a starkly vertical composition that was conceived as the right wing of a triptych (three-paneled artwork), the other two panels depicting the Annunciation to the Shepherds and the Nativity. In subsequent years he added A Visit (depicting the Annunciation to Mary), Flight into Egypt, and Presentation in the Temple to the set.

Here’s what Swanson says about the piece:

Epiphany depicts the journey of the three Magi as they travel up a serpentine trail. One of the Wise Men is seated as he looks at a map of the constellations with his magnifying glass; his servant holds a lamp so that he can see. Another Magi searches with his telescope into the sky. They look up in search of their beautiful guiding star as angels surround and point to it. They have exotic birds, peacocks, and dogs among their animals. I have tried to capture the details of the many plants, bushes, and trees and to create a variety of colors of green.

I used many symbols within the tapestries draping the animals. These patterns depict the Lion of Judah, the lamp in the darkness, the rain falling on the parched ground, the key to the locked door, the crown and the heart, and the gates to the city.

This is part of a series of three images (triptych). They were inspired by the Mexican tradition that I am familiar with for Christmas. Families will each create a beautiful crèche (nacimiento) with many figures and animals, creating a whole environment with landscaping in miniature around the Nativity figurines.

His other inspirations for this set include the opera Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti and the medieval stained glass windows in Chartres Cathedral.

Swanson, John August_Advent Triptych
John August Swanson, Advent Triptych, 1985–88 [for sale as poster or card]

John August Swanson (1938–2021) [previously] was born in Los Angeles of a Mexican mother and Swedish father. His father died when he was young, and he was raised in a multigenerational Mexican Catholic home. He studied serigraphy under Corita Kent [previously], and it became his primary medium. A serigraph is a type of print in which each color is individually layered by applying ink through a silkscreen onto paper. Epiphany has forty-eight individual colors.  

LISTEN: “Bright and Glorious” | Original Danish text (“Deilig Er Den Himmel Blaa”) by Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig, 1810 | English translation by Jens Christian Aaberg, 1927; first stanza adapted by the editors of the Lutheran Service Book and Hymnal, 1958 | Music by Seth Thomas Crissman and Greg J. Yoder, 2017 | Performed by the Walking Roots Band on Hark! A Walking Roots Band Christmas, 2017

[Watch the group sing the first stanza.]

Bright and glorious is the sky
Radiant are the heavens high
Where the golden star is shining
All its rays to earth inclining
Leading to the newborn king
Leading to the newborn king

Him they found in Bethlehem
Yet he wore no diadem
They but saw a maiden lowly
With an infant pure and holy
Resting in her loving arms
Resting in her loving arms

Guided by the star, they found
Him whose praise the ages sound
We, too, have a star to guide us
That forever will provide us
With the light to find our Lord
With the light to find our Lord

As a star, God’s holy word
Leads us to our King and Lord
Brightly from its sacred pages
Shall this light throughout the ages
Shine upon our path of life
Shine upon our path of life

The Walking Roots Band (TWRB) is an acoustic folk/bluegrass-ish music group steeped in Anabaptist hymn-singing traditions and based in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Several of its members are the creative forces behind The Soil and The Seed Project, a liturgy and arts initiative launched in 2021.

Here they’ve retuned an Epiphany hymn from Denmark, which compares the star that led the magi to Jesus to the Bible, God’s word, which serves as a guiding light for spiritual seekers, leading us to Christ himself. Its pages offer countless epiphanies—revelations of God’s glory, opportunities for divine encounter. Its wisdom and truth can illuminate our paths if we let it.

2 thoughts on “Christmas, Day 12: Bright and Glorious

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