The angel said, ‘Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord…’ and the shepherds said, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened…’” (Luke 2:10,15)
The Magi asked, ‘Where is the One who has been born king of the Jews?’ (Matthew 2:2)
“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world… The Word became flesh” (John 1:9,14)
After so long in one Church, I sometimes approach Christmas with trepidation, wondering, “what can I say about the Christmas story that I haven’t said before?” Yet, as I turn again to the familiar Christmas readings year after year I always see something fresh that I’ve not considered before. This year, as always, I also searched for a suitable ‘Christmas’ image for my Ppt. slides. I’d settled on finding a Nativity scene. There are plenty of classical images to choose from. But as I scanned through them I realised just how many of the artists used chiaroscuro – the use of strong contrasts between light and dark – combined with shifting their painting’s light source. Instead of (sometimes in spite of) a logical light source such as starlight or moonlight or lantern-light or candlelight, a frequent feature is to make the Christ-child into the light source. The artists are, obviously, making a theological statement about the True Light that is coming into the world. After all – when we consider the Nativity and the Christmas story – it’s all about the baby, isn’t it?
Or is it? That’s when I had a lightbulb moment, an epiphany, a blinding revelation (puns intended!) and found my Christmas themes. As I sought to match the artists’ images to the words of the familiar Christmas readings, I realised they have misled me. The Nativity, the Advent season, are not actually focused on ‘the wean in the manger.’ Look closely at the biblical texts: they’re not really about a baby at all. These are not birth announcements.
The participants in our Nativity narratives were not looking so much for a baby as for something, or someone, beyond the signs of singing angels and ancient scrolls and a star and a stable. What the angels announced and what the shepherds sought was ‘a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.’ Their ‘good news of great joy for all the people’ wasn’t really about a baby, but about this Saviour. What the Magi sought and what Herod feared was a King. It wasn’t really about a baby, but about this King. The apostle John’s chiaroscuro uses words not brushstrokes to paint a picture – and it’s not really about a baby. It’s about the True Light. The Word. The glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
This Christmas, may we all look beyond the Christmas art and the Nativity set. May we see “this thing that has happened.”