Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.

The Visitation

James Janknegt: The Visitation


John Coolidge Adams: The Babe Leaped in Her Womb

About the Artist and Art: 

James Janknegt: The Visitation, oil on canvas.

James Janknegt (b. 1954) is a contemporary artist who lives and paints in Elgin, Texas, and is devoted to the pursuit of sacred art. Strongly influenced by the colorful folk art of Mexico and the American Southwest, Janknegt is highly sought after for his Biblical illustrations, paintings and murals. In addition to his own work, he runs an art school for children. Currently he is publishing a book of Lenten Meditations which will contain 40 of his parable paintings paired with scripture, meditations and prayers.

About the Music:
The Babe Leaped in Her Womb

And Mary said, Behold the
handmaid of the Lord;
be it unto me according to thy word.
And the angel departed from her.
And Mary arose in those days,
and went into the hill country
with haste, into a city of Judah;
And entered the house of Zacharias;
and saluted Elisabeth.
And it came to pass, that,
when Elisabeth heard the salutation
of Mary, the babe leaped in the womb;
and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
And she spoke out with a loud voice,
and said, Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
For, lo, as soon as the voice
of thy salutation sounded in mine

ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
And blessed is she that believed:
for there shall be a performance
of those things which
were told her from the Lord.

About the Composer:
John Coolidge Adams
(b. 1947) is one of America’s most admired composers. His compositions, both classical music and opera, have strong roots in minimalism. His works include Harmonielehre (1985), Short Ride in a Fast Machine (1986), On the Transmigration of Souls (2002), a choral piece commemorating the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2003), and Shaker Loops (1978), a minimalist four-movement work for strings. His operas include Nixon in China (1987), which recounts Richard Nixon's 1972 visit to China, and Doctor Atomic (2005), which covers Robert Oppenheimer, the Manhattan Project, and the building of the first atomic bomb. The Death of Klinghoffer is a controversial opera for which he wrote the music, based on the hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro by the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985, and the hijackers' murder of wheelchair-bound 69-year-old Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer. One of John Adams’ most recent works is an oratorio based on the life of Mary Magdalene called The Gospel According to the Other Mary. Adams is currently Creative Chair of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. 

About El Niño
At the turn of the century, Adams composed El Niño (2000), an oratorio based on the Christmas story of Jesus. El Niño’s texts are in Spanish, Latin, and English and are gathered from approximately 30 different sources including poems by Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648/51?-1695), Rosario Castellanos 1925-1974), Gabriela Mistral (1899-1957), Rubén Darío (1867-1916), and Vicente Huidobro (1893-1948). The Biblical texts include familiar Old Testament prophecies and New Testament Nativity accounts, as well as writings from the Apocrypha, non-canonical texts from the early Christian era. There are anonymous verses from the medieval Wakefield Mystery Plays, a passage from a Christmas sermon by Martin Luther (1483-1546), and the hymn “O Quam Preciosa” by Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179). The music is derived from many different idioms, including Handel, pop, and liturgical music. Some music critics are referring to El Niño as a new Messiah for the 21st century.

“The piece is my way of trying to understand what is meant by a miracle. When I recently re-read some of the New Testament gospels I was struck as never before by the fact that most of the narratives are little more than long sequences of miracles,” Adams said at the time of the premiere. “I don’t understand why the story of Jesus must be told in this manner, but I accept as a matter of faith that it must be so. The Nativity is the first of these miracles, and El Niño is a meditation on these events. In fact, my original working title was “How Could This Happen?” This phrase, taken from the Antiphon for Christmas Eve, also must surely have been uttered by me at the births of my own son and daughter.”


Two Mothers Meet
Scripture: Luke 1: 39 – 45

by Jessica Snell

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby 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 to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby 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.”

The Visitation

by Malcolm Guite

Here is a meeting made of hidden joys
Of lightenings cloistered in a narrow place
From quiet hearts the sudden flame of praise
And in the womb the quickening kick of grace.

Two women on the very edge of things
Unnoticed and unknown to men of power
But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings
And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

And Mary stands with all we call ‘too young’,
Elizabeth with all called ‘past their prime’
They sing today for all the great unsung
Women who turned eternity to time
Favoured of heaven, outcast on the earth
Prophets who bring the best in us to birth.


Mary is the most blessed of women, mother of God, the highly-favored one. But there is another woman in the Bible named “most blessed of women,” and that is Jael, whose story is found in the book of Judges.

When Sisera, the commander of the forces of Israel’s enemies, fled a losing battle, Jael went out to meet him and urged him to hide in her tent. When he did, she fed him milk, had him lie down, and covered him up.

Then, once he was asleep, she took a mallet and drove a tent-peg through his temple, nailing his head to the ground.

Jael’s story intersects with the story of another well-known woman: Deborah the prophetess, who sang of Jael:

Most blessed of women be Jael…
she struck Sisera;
she crushed his head;

she shattered and pierced his temple.
…So may all your enemies perish, O Lord!

Deborah sang a paean of praise to God for the victory he wrought through Jael: an unlikely victory using an unlikely weapon. Many long centuries later, Elizabeth would sing another song of praise to the Lord upon seeing his triumphant use of another unlikely woman: the young, unwed, ordinary Mary.

Jael welcomed her enemy into her home; Mary welcomed her Lord into her womb. Jael killed her enemy with the bloody thrust of a tent-peg; Mary brought her Lord to birth with the bloody pangs of labor. Jael lulled her enemy to sleep with warm milk; Mary nurtured the Son of God with the milk of her own body.

This, then, is what it is to be blessed: it is to be found ready to obey God with whatever we have at hand. It is to be a tool ready-on-hand for our Lord if ever he wants to use us, and to be used by him; whether he wants to use us to destroy or whether he wants to use us to build up.

In our weakness, as Paul tells us, God shows his strength. Malcolm Guite echoes this truth in his poem, “The Visitation,”

Two women on the very edge of things

Unnoticed and unknown to men of power

But in their flesh the hidden Spirit sings

And in their lives the buds of blessing flower.

There isn’t any reason to doubt the virtue of Deborah and Jael, or of Mary and Elizabeth, but it’s not their virtue that the scripture brings to our attention. Rather, it is the great virtue, strength, and goodness of God that these women’s lives display. They are the stained glass, but they are not the light that shines through it and makes it beautiful.

God is the light. As Elizabeth asks in wonder, “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” It is the presence of God that astounds, not the presence of Mary.  As James Janknegt’s painting so deftly illustrates, what is happening on the surface of things is true, but what is happening on the surface is not a complete picture.

If all you see is the old woman greeting the young, you are missing the most important part. You are missing the meaning.

You are missing the work of God.

But Elizabeth saw the work of God, and Mary did too. So did Deborah, and so did Jael.

And so might we, if we listen to them. As Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who believed.”

Believe, then. And wait, this Advent, to see the work of the Lord.


About the Poet:
Malcolm Guite (b. 1957) is a poet, author, Anglican priest, teacher, and singer-songwriter based in Cambridge, England. He has published four collections of poetry: Saying the Names, The Magic Apple Tree, Sounding the Seasons: Poetry for the Christian Year, and The Singing Bowl. His writing has been acclaimed by Rowan Williams and Luci Shaw, and his Antiphons appeared in Penguin’s Best Spiritual Writing 2013. Guite’s theological works include What Do Christians Believe? and Faith, Hope, and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination. He is a scholar of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and the British poets, and serves as Bye-Fellow and chaplain at Girton College at the University Cambridge, supervising students in English and Theology and lecturing widely in England and America. Guite plays in the Cambridge rock band Mystery Train, whose albums include The Green Man and Dancing through the Fire.

First published: The Advent Project, CCCA Advent Calendar, 14 December 2016, Biola University Center for Christianity Culture and the Arts.


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