So much of our story is in how we remember it. How we choose to frame things can completely alter our perspective. We have cameras with us 24/7 to capture every moment of our lives, but to remember things from over 100+ years ago, we rely on art for our images. The art shapes our perspective of history.
There has been a lot of art created about the birth of Jesus. Some of it is beautiful. Most of it is grand. Historically, it is all clean and tidy. But that’s not really how it happened, is it? Jesus’ birth was bloody and painful…like all human births.
On the left is Carravagio’s “The Nativity with Sts Francis and Lawrence”. It was the most human portrayal I could find in my quick search of Nativity art by the masters. It was scandalous in 1609 when he painted it. He shows Mary in a tired (but clean) slump after giving birth. For some reason, we want Jesus to be all wrapped up in blankets with a halo of light. We want Mary to be serenely looking on. We want the farm animals to be quietly cooing. We want Joseph to be steadfastly attentive. This is how our art portrays the scene.
I went to a live nativity last night at our local zoo. I winced watching the young “Mary” ride in on a donkey, remembering how terribly uncomfortable pregnancy is. We chuckled as the goats fought with each other and the sheep ate the straw from the manger where they had put “baby Jesus.” Even in this modest attempt to recreate the scene, we were reminded of the humanity of the event. It was a far cry from the Carravagio painting.
There is an artist I really like named Scott Erickson. Pictured on the right is one of his new works. It is part of a series on the birth of Jesus. I find it interesting that this series has been met with mixed reactions from his fans. Some people found the work graphic and even pornographic. I really like these paintings because they make me a little bit uncomfortable. They remind me of Jesus’ humanity. They remind me that he got messy to come to us. So often we think we need to be neat and tidy to go before the God of the universe…but look at how his son came to us. Messy.
This year has been a bit messy. It has also been great in a lot of ways. But this Christmas, I am reminded by the art of Scott Erickson, that God is not only the God of beauty…he’s the God of mess too. Mine and yours. Merry Messy Christmas!