Advent, Day 3: Come Christmas

LOOK: Home by Olya Kravchenko

Kravchenko, Olya_Home
Olya Kravchenko (Ukrainian, 1985–), Home, 2012. Egg tempera on gessoed board, 29 × 39.9 cm.

This painting shows a cottage on a snowy hillside at night. Inside, a fire is lit in the hearth, casting a warm glow and sending smoke rising up the chimney. There’s a cat in the window and a sled on the lawn.

On all sides, the sky is populated by a mystical swirl of birds and flowery tendrils and angelic beings. Two of those angels, represented by large golden heads, hold wisps of snow in their hands and embrace the house, offering a protective presence.

Sadly, this cozy winter idyll is elusive for many this year, not least those in Ukraine, where this painting comes from. Many Ukrainians have had to flee their homes to evade the encroaching Russian troops. Others are dealing with the trauma of having lost family members in the war, or the fear of having loved ones on the front line.

Kravchenko told me this month that the situation in her country is “terrifying and unfathomable,” and she alerted me to a few of the recent icons she has painted in response to the war, including Air Defense, The one who protects the sky above the city, Crucifixion in War, and The Virgin of Peace and Victory. Follow her on Instagram @olyakravchenkoart.

LISTEN: “Jul, Jul, Strålande Jul” (Christmas, Christmas, Glorious Christmas) | Words by Edvard Evers, 1921 | Music by Gustaf Nordqvist, 1921 | Performed by Zero8 on A Zero8 Christmas, 2011 (YouTube: 2016)

Jul, jul, strålande jul, glans över vita skogar,
himmelens kronor med gnistrande ljus,
glimmande bågar i alla Guds hus,
psalm som är sjungen från tid till tid,
eviga längtan till ljus och frid!
Jul, jul, strålande jul, glans över vita skogar!

Kom, kom, signade jul! Sänk dina vita vingar,
över stridernas blod och larm,
över all suckan ur människobarm,
över de släkten som gå till ro,
över de ungas dagande bo!
Kom, kom, signade jul, sänk dina vita vingar!

English translation by Michael A. Lowry:

Christmas, Christmas, glorious Christmas: shine over white forests,
heavenly crowns with sparkling lights,
glimmering arcs in the houses of God,
hymns that are sung throughout the ages,
eternal longing for light and peace!
Christmas, Christmas, glorious Christmas, shine over white forests!

Come, come, blessed Christmas: lower your white wings,
over the battlefield’s blood and cry,
over the sighs from the bosoms of men,
over the loved ones who’ve gone to their rest,
over the daybreak of newborn life!
Come, come, blessed Christmas: lower your white wings!

“Jul, Jul, Strålande Jul” is one of the most widely sung Swedish Christmas songs. It personifies Christmas as a luminous winged being, asks it to descend over our wooded neighborhoods and over our songs and our longings, dispensing blessing; to extinguish our wars and raging and spread its comforts over our anxieties and losses; and to cradle the new lives that have been born this year, reminders of innocence and signs of hope for a future.

Blest Be the Tie (Artful Devotion)

Tooker, George_Embrace of Peace II
George Tooker (American, 1920–2011), Embrace of Peace II, 1988. Egg tempera on gesso panel, 18 × 30 in. Private collection.

Let brotherly love continue.

—Hebrews 13:1


SONG: “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds” | Words by John Fawcett, 1782 | Music by Johann G. Nageli, 1828; arr. Lowell Mason, 1845 | Performed by Zero8, on Mes très chers frères (“My dearest brothers”) (2017)

While looking online and on Spotify for the best available recording of this classic, I decided on the a cappella rendition by Zero8, a Stockholm-based male choir. But my favorite solo rendition is, ironically, from this year’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Season One (Original Television Soundtrack). Though I don’t endorse the show, Jaz Sinclair’s vocal performance in episode 8 is gorgeous. (Her character sings the hymn during a funeral scene.) I also came across a retuned version by Sara Groves from her 2013 album The Collection, which is quite lovely, though I remain attached to the original tune.


The “embrace of peace” in the title of the above George Tooker painting refers to a liturgical element in many Christian worship services in which congregants bless one another in the name of Christ. Depending on the church culture, this can be done with a handshake, a hug, or in some cultures, a kiss. The ritual is commonly referred to as the “passing of the peace” and, more than a mere greeting, is a significant gesture of reconciliation, unity, and love. Here’s a variation by Tooker on the same theme:

Tooker, George_An Embrace of Peace
George Tooker (American, 1920–2011), An Embrace of Peace, 1986. Egg tempera on gesso panel, 16 × 26 in.

This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 17, cycle C, click here.