The Gift of the Nativity
They say a picture paints a thousand words. In every generation, the Church has commissioned artists to tell our sacred stories through the visual arts — paintings, sculptures, paraments, and glorious stained-glass windows. Sometimes the backstories behind these works of art add unexpected significance to a well-known image.
So it is with the Nativity window in St Stephen’s sanctuary. The window was given in memory of Levi A. and Amelia Ringwalt by their daughter Anna M. Reed. You can see their names on the large wall plaque near the window and the small metal plate on the windowsill. Anna, born in 1877, was the oldest of the four Ringwalt children. Her father Levi was one of 50 people to sign our congregation’s charter, in 1888. He held at least one patent and ran a successful business as a harness-maker in Wilmington.
A few quick internet searches reveal that Amelia died in 1892 a day short of her 35th birthday, when her daughter Anna was 15 years old. The death notice in Wilmington’s The Daily Republican reports that Mrs. Ringwalt died “…from consumption [i.e., tuberculosis] after a long illness. Her husband died about 2 years ago. She was an exemplary lady and enjoyed the esteem of a large circle of friends.” So, within two years, Anna lost both her parents, while she was a young teenager herself. Sometime around the congregation’s fiftieth anniversary in 1938, Anna gave the Nativity window, showing the Holy Family, in memory of her parents. Anna and her mother Amelia are buried in Wilmington’s Riverview Cemetery.
Without reading too much into these biographical details, the testimony of the Ringwalt family through the gift of that Christmas window reminds us that Jesus was born into a human family who likewise knew the full range of joy and sorrow, just like Anna and her parents. This is the essence of the Incarnation: that God, in Christ, drew near enough to experience birth and death. The writer of our fourth gospel tells us “The Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Anna’s gift suggests faith persevering through the longest night and makes room for us to honor both grief and gratitude, joy and sorrow, hope and loss while Christ is making all things new.
In these last days of Advent, may the peace of Christ and renewed hope in Christ’s coming be yours.