A few thoughts among many. I have been encouraged lately by art and writing inspired by The Christmas Event, that happening in real time and space when God the Son became one of us.
Even a helpless newborn baby overpowers all the mighty socio-political powers and stratagems of the reigning authorities. Here we have the tiniest and most defenseless child who thwarts the machinations of Herod and all that he represents. Herod’s ham-fisted response to the coming threat, though he wildly misunderstands what sort of threat he is, is to feign to get on board: sure I want to worship the greater-king-than-me too — then to kill every possible suspect. But Herod and all his like were totally defeated from the moment the baby made his appearance.
The tiny child had help, of course, but that’s the point. He is the true authority, the Creator, the ultimate King. His mother and earthly father have been appointed by God Almighty to nurture and protect him. His angels cannot help but rejoice so exhuberently that those who are expectant can see and hear them; they must announce the great news to all who will listen. His Father will be well pleased with His Son. He will accept his self-sacrifice on our behalf. He will raise him from the dead! His kingdom will have no end because his kingship is founded on his completely willing humility in relation to His Father and his total love for human beings.
So the defenseless baby’s birth sets off a series of events ending in the utter defeat of all the plans of God’s enemies.
The announcement comes to those who are awake in the night. These are social outsiders who spend their lives in the wilderness outside town, keeping the flocks safe. They are poor, unimportant loners. But they are awake to the news. The shepherds’ response to seeing for themselves that which the angels have announced is to go and tell everyone who will listen. One way or another, those who look for God’s graceful intrusion into human affairs hear the good news.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
This is The Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds, from the 13th century. I love this little illuminated illustration because its straightforward simplicity reflects the humble happening with the momentous glory hiding within.
I am an artist who often rails against the idea that art is a panacea to the negatives of this world. I tend to think art is, in practical terms, ineffectual to provide real help to us. But this Christmas, I have been encouraged a great deal during the— I must admit— severe stress I feel to provide the Christmas to which we are accustomed. God has graciously spoken to me through these ancient paintings, some humble, some grand. I have been drawn to consider what this real event, the birth of Christ, means. And the artists behind these beautiful images have become many voices, used by God still, to bear me up and lead me to a quiet but real joy.