I was asked by Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture & the Arts to pen a Christmas day reflection for the “Advent Project,” reflecting in part on Rembrandt’s painting, “The Adoration of the Shepherds.” Here is part of what I wrote, followed by a prayer:
In the nativity there is the joy of the world’s deliverance and the tragedy of what it will cost. There is the child and there is the cross. Light and dark.
We see it well in Rembrandt’s Adoration of the Shepherds. The painting is all about darkness and light. The newborn Messiah is the brightest source of light in an otherwise dominantly dark scene; brighter even than the lantern held by a bystander. He is the light of the world. But notice what looms in the darkness in the upper half of the painting: the beams in the rafters form a cross.
The joy of Advent is inextricable from the pain of sin, suffering and longing. Joy’s potency comes not from negating suffering but from relating to it, emanating from it, embracing the longing. Joy is Sehnsucht, wrote C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy: “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”
The curious tension of joy is beautifully present in Advent, a season of celebration but also longing. We rejoice over God’s coming to dwell with us and redeem the world. And we wait, wait, wait for the day when he will return to bring justice and peace to this unjust and bloody planet. In the meantime we exist in a state of hopeful expectancy, a frail world that wearily waits for a new and glorious morn.
Thank you for your illuminating light.
You, who let there be light in the beginning,
Whose light shines on those living in the land of darkness,
Who remains the light of the world,
Overcome the darkness.
Shine through us.
Let your light shine in us, before men, so that they would glorify you.
Let the Light of your presence guide us,
for in your Light do we see light.
Enlighten us, Oh Lord.
Help us to walk in the light, as You are in the light.
So that others would see and know
The joy of knowing You.
Read the rest of the post here.