In many renaissance paintings of the nativity, including Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished work, “Adoration of the Shepherds”, you will see fires, staircases going nowhere, and crumbling buildings in the background. These scenes express an essential universal event that occurred when Jesus was born. One kingdom began to crumble while another arose. The world as you know it began to end.
When God became humankind in the womb of Mary, His Kingdom came to earth. His reign gently commenced here and the reign of hopelessness, sin and death began to end. So Jesus declares in His first sermon – the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, repent and believe! Sure enough, as promised, this little King grew up and slayed sin and Satan from the cross, defeated death in the grave, rose again and sent out His church – you – throughout the whole world declaring victory to people living in fear, shame, and guilt. Better than John Lennon’s pompous and naive Christmas song, “War is Indeed Over.”
Yet, like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, we have invented a sentimental scene with a cute and cuddly baby among Fisher Price farm animals. We can’t be blamed too much though. Such a big bang of the universe didn’t even make the last page of Rome’s national enquirer. No explosion, trumpets, no one was there, except for some beasts of burden and bunch of crudely dressed shepherds nearby. Caesar slept comfortably that night. Herod turned over and snuggled with his concubine. God snuck past us all. It’s the only way grace comes; gently, surprisingly. We would never accept it if it was simply offered. We definitely couldn’t stand before God if He came in all His glory. We would run. But a little baby? Who’s afraid of a baby? A man on a cross? He doesn’t scare anyone.
But make no mistake, a new day has dawned where love, forgiveness, and hope rule. The old age is slowly passing away. Thus, da Vinci depicts ruins remaining as Christ begins His rule. As you look at the painting right now, watch out. It’s been said that some end up focusing on the ruins more than the Christ child when meditating on the painting, or life. Satan wants us to go back, believing in those ruins, clinging to gods that can’t really help, believing in karma and just desserts, and living in the illusion that this world is forever. This Christmas consider what ruins still haunt your life in Christ? What sins still punish you? What guilt still clings to you even though Jesus forgives it completely? What dashed hopes do you still pretend that they make you happy?
Sisters and brothers in Christ, a new age has dawned on Christmas whether anyone believes or not. As St. Paul says in the first chapter of his letter to the Christians in Colossae, through Him all things were made and to Him all things return! Christmas is reality and effects every subatomic particle of the universe. The gifts Christ has won are for us today. You are forgiven. You will rise again. We have been given a new kingdom that will never crumble or fade away. May this real hope fill you and your family this Christmas and beyond.