Posted by: Jeff Warren | December 11, 2011

A Christmas Masterpiece- an artful journey to the manger

Christmas is the most wonderful, colorful, and artful time of the year. Like no other time of the year, the arts burst forth in all forms to celebrate the season. From concert halls and theaters to popular music and television, Christmas themes prevail in all art forms. While red and green tend to dominate the pallet of Christmas, we see lights of all colors, gold ribbons, and silver bells. While some are dreaming of a white Christmas others struggle through a blue Christmas.

The way a culture views life will be reflected in its art. Just pause for a moment and consider what that means when we take a hard look at our culture. What do we see in the arts today? Consider the visual arts, video, cinema, the performing arts, theater, popular music- mostly vanity, sex, violence, chaos, relativism, even fatalism. There’s a spiritual principle at work here. Who we are is what we create. What’s in the heart of a culture will be expressed through the arts. Jesus said,

“Out of an overflow of the heart the mouth will speak.” Matthew 12:34

Out of the heart comes all of life. As an art student on the university campus, I found myself in a Philosophy of Art class and in the middle of a debate over a phrase you’ve probably heard before: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” This of course, plays into the subjective reality of the arts- music, painting, sculpture, theater- but is it true? Or is their some objective standard by which we measure beauty? I remember when grades were handed out for certain projects. How would you grade an artist who had randomly flung paint across a canvas up against one who had worked tirelessly on a magnificent, intricate landscape? Is it all subjective? Is it all relative? Or is there an objective reality by which one can judge art, or anything in life, for that matter? I remember having passionate discussions with other students that spilled over into contrasting of worldviews. One would argue for objective truth and others would argue that there is no such thing as truth. As one modern philosopher said, “The truth is there is no truth.” Of course, if that statement is true then it’s not.

Christmas is, at its core, the declaration- an expression of ultimate reality, ultimate beauty and of Truth. At its core- Christmas is God’s proclamation that He exists and there is Truth- and we now know exactly Who He is and what He’s like. All of this came into full clarity when God- the Master Artist expressed Himself to humanity. And He did so from His divine pallet with two primary colors: grace and truth.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17 And, of course, it was Jesus who said,

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” John 14:6

Dorothy Sayers, in her book, the “Mind of the Maker” presents God as a Creative Artist. If you imagine God as an engineer or a clockmaker or immovable force you’ll go astray. God’s image shines through to us clearly in His act of creation. And interestingly, His Revelation of Himself to us is comprised of three stages which I think gives us a powerful analogy of the Trinity. Christmas means God has revealed Himself to us as the Trinity. Theologians have explained this as “God in three Persons”- Even the word “persona” was invented or transferred over by theologians to explain the Trinity- the persona referred to the mask of the actor. The same actor would wear different masks- same person, different forms.

The Artistic Process
The Idea All art begins in the creative mind of the artist as an idea.
The Expression Then the artist must choose the best medium for the expression of that idea. Some expressed themselves through writing- through prose or epic poetry like Dante or Milton. John Wesley wrote sermons, his brother Charles wrote hymns. Michelangelo chose sculpture, others have chosen opera, painting, movie, theater, cinema to express the idea with which he or she desires to convey. The expression comes in many forms and many mediums in art. Then..
The Response Finally someone reacts- responds to the art- once an idea, now expressed, meets the “beholder”. The response completes the creative cycle. Art is not art until someone has responded to it.
Think about how you have responded to God’s expression of Himself to you. The Bible calls His artwork to us- “Revelation”. He is the Revealer, the Revelator and we are the responders. God is always the Initiator- we are not. I want you to notice how John follows this pattern of God’s revelation to us. Although God is one, within that unity we can distinguish the work of three distinct persons. God the Father is the “Idea” or Essence, of all reality. “I AM that I AM”. Everything that exists- everything- flows from His existence. Consider how God has revealed Himself to us:

The Idea: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1 “Logos”- the Divine Idea. We learn something about God from all of creation- quasars to kangaroos, aardvarks and anteaters, and especially from human beings- but ONE human Being, the Divine Incarnate Son of God, represents the perfect Expression of His Essence. He is the exact representation of His being” and “the image of the invisible God.”

The Expression: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14 Let’s talk about responding to God’s Masterpiece- Jesus. If you’re like me, you can understand the Trinity when you think about how you came to Jesus Christ. God expressed Himself to me and I responded. First, I came to know God the Father. I learned early on that He was awesome, loving, holy- deserving of our worship. Then I became acquainted with Jesus, a Man I wanted to follow the rest of my life. And then- almost like a second conversion- I became aware of the Power of the Spirit, of the Living God inside of me. That’s how I captured the progression of God’s revelation to me. I think His revelation is perceived by all of us time-bound humans.
The final step in God’s creative revelation came to fruition at Pentecost, when God took up residence inside human beings. Something of God’s Essence, the same Spirit who hovered over the waters at Creation, now lives inside flawed human beings, giving us the Recognition of a new identity. The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children and God’s act of creation reached its pinnacle.

The Response: “He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:11-12
Though everyone is created by God, not everyone is a child of God,-only those who have received Him. John said he, “beheld His glory”. As the beholder of God’s expression, how do you respond to this Christmas Masterpiece? Your personal response is required. God has revealed Himself to you and responding to God always requires change.- not on His part, but yours. The Truth of who Jesus is does not change (Hebrews 13:8). We are the ones who must do the changing. Once we have beheld Jesus, it demands a response. God loves you. His Idea was to save you; His expression was His Son; the response is up to you. As you consider the colors of Christmas this season, consider the words from the prophet Isaiah, 700 years before Christ was born.

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18

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