This Advent, I’m writing a series of devotions, based on ten of the most gorgeous paintings of the Christmas story ever created. From Bruegel and Botticelli to Fra Angelico and Giorgione.
Look carefully at the painting. Read the Bible text. Read the reflection. Recite the prayer. Breathe.
2 THE ANGEL APPEARS TO JOSEPH
Artwork: The Dream of St Joseph – Philippe de Champaigne, National Gallery, London
Reading: Matthew 1:18-25
The French Baroque painter Champaigne is one of very few artists to bother depicting Joseph’s story, but he does so in an unlikely way. He manages to make a painting of Joseph be almost entirely about Mary.
Note the way the arrangement of the sleeping Joseph and his angelic visitor create a sideways V shape that actually accentuates Mary’s presence between them.
Note also the angel’s sign language. One finger pointed to heaven. The other to Mary. As if indicating the supernatural link between them. As if to say, “She belongs to God now.”
And note Mary’s posture. She waits. Her arms are folded across her chest, like she’s holding herself together. And she’s focused on the angel. It’s as if she can see right into Joseph’s dreams. She knows that everything hinges on the angel getting this right. Should Joseph reject her, forcing her back to her father’s home or, worse still, out onto the streets, what would become of her child and everything that God promised to do through him? She has said she will trust God, but will God come through?
Eternity swings on this moment.
Mary is entirely at the mercy of the outcome of this situation. And she knows it.
She might be thinking, “Don’t screw this up, angel”.
Have you ever waited on God, fully aware that the current circumstance is utterly beyond your control? Have you ever needed to wrap your arms around yourself, to hold yourself steady as you await the outcome? While others sleep peacefully, oblivious to the gravity of your situation?
This is the discipline of Advent – waiting expectantly, humbly, trustingly. This, of all times, is the time of year when it’s okay to pray nervously, “Don’t screw this up, God.”
As Dan Allender reminds us, “Hope is not docile, anemic patience that serenely waits with hands folded and eyes closed. Instead, hope cries to God in despair and protest… Hope cries out for God to turn from his silence and speak.”
God of comfort, these times seem so uncertain, so scary. The world seems darker than it has in the past and I am less sure of myself. Maybe that’s a good thing; maybe now I am turning to you with a realization that I need you so much more and that my life is not in my own control. Hold us all in your loving arms and let us be comforted by the strength and peace you want so much to offer us through the birth of your son, Jesus. Thank you for the many gifts you offer us.