by Christine Sine
It’s the 4th day of Christmas and for many of us, it is as though the season is already behind us. I love seeing Christmas as a season rather than a day, and thoroughly enjoy celebrating the 12 days of Christmas. This year I am finding particular joy in exploring the different moods of the season. And Christmas is a season of many moods – of intense joy and celebration, of despair and disbelief, of dreaming and hoping. All of these are woven together in cords of love and life poured out by a compassionate God who we remember at this season as the one who reached down and entered human history in an amazing way.
During Advent, I focused on those who surround Mary and Jesus and found myself entering the story of a very human, young woman living a perilous life at the fringes of the Roman Empire. Now my focus has shifted. It all began with my rearranging of my sacred space with a Christmas theme rather than Advent, but it has been much more than that. Aided by a beautiful book of 40 full-colour images of Western art: The Art of Advent by Jane Williams, I am taking a journey towards Epiphany, with an expanding and stunningly hope-filled view of the God of the cosmos.
I am particularly drawn to He Qi’s Nativity, one of my favourite Christmas paintings, but to be honest, I have never taken the time to explore it in depth. I little like the way I once celebrated Christmas. Jane Williams invites me to do so. Her comment that this nativity scene “shows both the sweet simplicity and the dazzling complexity of what we celebrate at Christmas” stopped me in my tracks. I feel I have spent Advent looking at the simplicity and now God is inviting me to explore some of the complexities.
The geometric lines create a sense of turbulence as worlds collide around this birth”, she explains. “Some of the waves seem to be creating waves of joy: the sheep, for example, seem to be dancing to a music that only they can hear.” The rejoicing of the cosmos, hope for a world transformed and a creation renewed. I drink in the wonder of it and sit in awe of what the birth of this child means not just for me, not just for humankind, but for the whole of God’s creation.
“This one act of God redefines so much”, Williams says. Even Godself is redefined, “God who is, by definition, beyond human knowledge, comes to be God with us, Emmanuel.” We still have trouble getting our heads around that and often try to push God away into a distant heavenly realm disconnected from this earth. We want to hide, just as Adam and Eve hid in the Garden. But God is indeed with us in ways that it is hard for us to comprehend.
“This act of God redefines power. It takes all the might of the creator of the universe to enter into creation and become the opposite of God. It takes shocking force to absorb hatred and violence and death and turn it into love, peace and life.” Wow, wow and wow again. What a message of hope for today. God with us – almost impossible to believe as we look at all that is happening around us.
“Nothing that will happen as God lives with us will make God’s nature change. God will remain loving, creative, living, renewing through all of life and into death, so that we can be sure that God is with us, always, everywhere, bringing new life, new hope, new possibilities. God with us means that our possibilities, our hopes and fears, are not the limits of what can be. God redefines what is possible, as only God who makes all possibilities can. If God is with us then so is life and hope. Perhaps the strange lines that intersect across He Qi’s nativity scene are the signs of the movement of God, restoring the world. (The Art of Advent, Jane Williams 100,101)
I am also reading Bruce Epperly’s The Work of Christmas: The 12 Days of Christmas with Howard Thurman, a book that invites us to be light-bearers carrying the message of Divine justice and hope, making it come alive even in the darkest corners of the world. Epperly explains that the story of Christmas emerges out of the darkness:
The darkness of Mary’s womb, the darkness of bleak midwinter, the darkness of powerlessness and poverty, and the darkness of Roman occupation. In such as situation, it is difficult to believe that anything good can be born or that a child will survive the cruelty of despotic hatred. Yet, the story of this child’s birth witnesses to light in the darkness and hope in a time of fear. The light of the world shines most brightly on the darkest night. In the moist darkness of the earth, a seed germinates, holding within itself the promise of a harvest to come. (The Work of Christmas 20, 21)
Epperly goes on to say:
Thurman is a particularly appropriate interpreter of the message of hope that emerges out of darkness. Born in the South in 1899, Thurman, like the Christ Child, experienced the trauma of prejudice throughout his life. … Emmanuel, God with us, is the message of Christmas in the darkness of our own times, when our nation is polarized and people fear the future. (The Work of Christmas 21)
Emmanuel – God with us now and through all eternity. So hard to believe even as we celebrate it, especially in a world as chaotic as ours. Take some time today to explore He Qi’s painting. If you can, set aside at least 30 minutes for a visio divina examination of its simplicity and its complexity. What places and situations make it hard for you to believe that God is with you today?
Now read through Howard Thurman’s poem
“The Work of Christmas”
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.
Prayerfully consider how God might ask you to respond.
NOTE: As an Amazon Affiliate, I receive a small amount for purchases made through appropriate links above. Thank you for supporting Godspace in this way.