Advent in Art 12: Jo Nonweiler

Helen Dallaston
Sunday, 9 December 2012


Hi I’m Helen, and I’ll be presenting the Advent art piece done for us by Jo Nonweiler. Unfortunately, she’s in Switzerland so can’t be here. And doubly unfortunately, the art piece itself got lost in the mail so we can only see a photograph of it.

Jo’s art is based on a section in Isaiah chapter 9 and 10 which predicts the dramatic fall of Israel and the coming of a future King or messiah from the line of David:

See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    will lop off the boughs with great power.
The lofty trees will be felled,
    the tall ones will be brought low.
34 He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax;
    Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.


We are going to approach this piece in several ways. First, we will spend a couple of minutes just being present with it and getting in touch with our personal responses. Next, I will present Jo’s thinking around her piece, because much thought and reflection has gone into each element of the work.

Also, as we consider each element, I have some questions which have come out of my response to Jo’s creation and her comments. The point of these questions is not to come up with complete answers, but to begin a process of ongoing reflection.

Okay so here it is! Take some time now to be, before it.


The work is iconic in style. Therefore we will now unpack it piece by piece, considering the significance of each symbol represented.


Feature: The black background represents the context of where the stump exists

Jo’s thinking behind her work:

The blackness, dark, bland nothingness, represents isolation.

At the time of Christ’s birth, Israel had lost its way. The people were living in darkness. Israel living separately, alone, lost, oppressed, in fear.

Jo comments “When I read the OT some of it is pretty horrible (like the ‘holy’ wars which, fact, seem to be just land grabbing), but to some of it, I think ‘Yes - that’s the same God I know.’

In the Gospels there are many stories where Jesus is in conversation with the Jewish leaders. They hung out together quite often it seems. Jesus though regularly points out that these Jewish leaders have lost their way. For example, the Pharisees have a problem with healing on the sabbath because you should only rest then according to their laws. They have completely missed the point that healing is of God.

Jesus speaks to this lost nation. He speaks to those who find themselves in darkness, lost and isolated.

My questions for us:

  • Looking back over the past year, where have the black places been for me? Where have I felt lost? (in the area of relationships? in the area of health? work? in concerns relating to politics? justice issues? )

  • If I had to choose a colour to describe my present ‘context’, what would it be?

“The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost." Luke 19:10


Feature: The stump is Israel exposed, so that its history is in evidence.

Jo's thinking behind her work:

Jesus the shoot, springs from the tribe of Israel. The rings on the tree represent the different generations of Jesus’ family.

It’s interesting to note that both Luke and Matthew include the genealogy of Jesus, but the family trees are different. Some people think that one is Mary’s and other is Joseph’s. And neither genealogy is consistent with lists elsewhere in the Bible e.g. in the book of Kings. In the gospel records, women have been inserted and whole generations skipped. Clearly, the writers of these gospels were being deliberately selective.

Jo comments, ”I‘m interested in the particular women listed in the genealogies. I have represented them in the four red lines on the growth rings. I choose red because of the red thread Rahab used  as referred to in Joshua chapter 2. The red thread was part of a plan whereby local prostitute Rahab worked with the invading spies of Israel, ultimately leading to Israel successfully defeating the King of Jericho.

The women listed as part of Jesus’ family tree were not Jews, in a culture where the Levitical Laws banned intermarriage with women outside the tribe of Israel. (In the book of Ezra, for example, these OT laws were enforced and all foreign wives were banished from Israel .)

Yet in these gospel genealogies, foreign women are given pride of place in the history of Israel. This is especially significant given that these genealogies are theological constructs.

The women listed are Tamar and Rahab (Canaanites), Ruth who was a Moabite (perhaps a NZ link there?) and Bathsheba, a Hittite.

And three out of these 4 women are not just foreigners. They also prostituted themselves.

Judah wouldn't take care of Tamar, his son’s widow, so Tamar pretended to be a prostitute. And as she hoped, she got pregnant by him , so Judah was eventually forced to take her as his wife. (You can read all about this in the raunchy 38th chapter of Genesis.)

Ruth lay at Boaz' feet i.e. had sex with him as a means of getting accepted into the Tribe of Israel, and Rahab we have already mentioned.

For each of these women, sex was their only means of gaining some power. It wasn’t about pleasure. Through their illicit sexual relations, Ruth saved her family from poverty, Rahab saved her family from death and Tamar also got a means of support i.e. a husband.

So these powerful Gentile women are listed proudly in Jesus’ genealogical records. It’s interesting to note that the better known women of Israel (Leah, Sarah, Rebekah) are all missing.

For me, says Jo, the inclusion of the women is a valuing of the strength of women in general. It also points to an acceptance of Gentiles, even in the OT.

And what of the men listed in the genealogies given in Matthew and Luke?

The men mentioned all have great stories. Jo says that some of their stories as recorded Kings and Chronicles, are worse than a soap opera – so much deceit, arrogance, lies. “Wild Ones” is the name of a book Mick Duncan wrote about some of these characters, his point being that ‘niceness’ and ‘respectability’ are not prerequisites for being a man or woman of God.

Jo concludes, “ If Jesus can claim these rat bags as his family, then he can claim me. ”

My questions for us:

  • What ‘tribes’ or communities are part of my history?

  • What do I contribute to each?

  • How would I like to be remembered by these communities?

  • Rahab, Tamar and Ruth used sex as a means of effecting change for the greater good, sex being the only option available to them.

  • How can I best effect change in my communities? (Just to be clear, this isn’t a push for prostitution.)

  • The Israelites of the OT assumed that they were especially favoured - God’s chosen people. Does the coming of Christ signal the end of such ‘tribal thinking’? (eg. To what extent is it valid to see ourselves as part of the ‘Christian tribe’? )

“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?... Anyone who does the will of my Father is my brother, my sister, my mother” says Jesus. (Matthew 12: 49)


Feature: This tree, once great, has been cut down to the stump.

Jo's thinking behind her work:

Not ‘pruned’ or neatly trimmed back but virtually annihilated. Damaged, plundered. Israel is no longer in glory at the time of Jesus’ birth.

There is quite a gap in time between the OT and the NT. Jo says, I wonder if God was silent during this time. I wonder if the Jews felt alone, forgotten about.

My questions for us:

  • What is my theology around brokenness? What does my faith mean when I’m confronted with inescapable suffering and tragedy? What about my failures? (Also: teenagers genuinely trying but still failing at school, failed marriage, failure to find a job, etc)

  • What would a ‘Job experience’ mean for my faith? What is my message to those in a ‘Job’ place?

“A thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering, a man to make people screen their faces. He was despised and we took no account of him” (Isaiah 53: 3)


Feature: The frame finishes a picture. This frame is made from MDF.

Jo's thinking behind her work:

Jo comments, Although the OT has references to a messiah, I wonder how many Jews really believed a messiah was going to come to rescue them. Was their story finished?

She originally planned a wooden frame to match the wood from the tree. However, she couldn’t find the right stuff so used MDF, which then became significant in itself. Israel cut down to nothing - plundered by Babylonians, Persians, and Romans who have taken the best bits so that all that’s left is saw-dust. A people without hope…

My questions for us:

  • Are there any areas of life where I feel I’m rubbish or perhaps stuck with no hope of a rescue? What do I do with this?

  • How comfortable am I with my own foibles?

  • Jesus turned water into wine. Do I believe he could also turn my MDF into something more durable and beautiful?


Feature: A new shoot has grown out from the old stump.

Jo's thinking behind her work:

The shoot represents hope, the Christ coming from the stump of Jesse. It is unexpected growth though, and not just because the stump looked dead. In Jo’s creation, the new growth is 3D, while the trunk is a 2D representation. Notice how it’s already escaping to grow beyond the old, rubbishy frame. This new growth is breaking free, bringing new life even in its early stages of growth.

Jo says, “I have been thinking about hope a lot recently. I have been in a very difficult place. It occurred to me that you can’t have hope unless you are lacking something. (If you have everything you want, then you celebrate, Hope isn’t necessary.) So hope is experienced when in the dark.

Hope she says, can be small but still very significant.


Poem by Emily Dickinson -

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -


And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -


I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me.


My questions for us:

  • Thinking of a place where things are difficult, what might ‘hope’ look like? (Use that gift called imagination.)

  • Have we any influence over how hope-filled’ we feel? How can I ‘nurture’ the growth of hope in myself?

  • Do I know of someone or a group of people in need of some hope in their life? What specific action could I take to ‘become hope’ for that person over the next few weeks? What about over the next year? (an individual? a family? a group of people?)


Feature: The shoot is a vine

Jo's thinking behind her work:

Jo says, I chose a vine because I like the image of a vine representing a community. This new shoot is really about group life, not about me doing my thing as an individual. When I’m part of a community, I need to care for others, to include them, to let them know they are a valued part of the whole. When we all make an effort in this direction, growth and new life abound.

She goes on to say, “At times I have felt a bit overwhelmed by all the talented, clever people at Cityside. However, over the years I have decided that there is no ‘in group’ or just one correct way to think. Part of belonging is deciding you belong, then simply acting like you belong. For example, rather than waiting for someone to invite you to lunch, because you are the new person and they are the old Citysider, you invite them. Or taking the risk, and speaking up and contributing to the service. I have decided that even if I am not as clever as some, that’s okay, I can still express my simple views… It’s still difficult though. I am a ‘one’ on the enneagram so not being perfect is difficult.”

My questions for us:

  • Do I feel part of Cityside?

  • What needs to change for Cityside to better represent new life, new growth, new beginnings?

  • What role could I play in this?



(From Jo): So when I read the genealogical record of Christ, I am reminded that I belong in the rag-tag bunch of people who tried and failed to know God, of people who didn’t try, and of people who tried and succeeded in knowing God.

I hear Jesus saying, ‘Yep, you belong, you are part of the vine, this new life.’ start behaving like it!

My questions for us:

  • What are the ‘big questions’ for me this Advent?

  • How are we going to nuture this sacred gift of New Life as we move into 2013?