Dear Friends of Aquinas
I have long loved Rembrandt’s famous 1846 painting of the Nativity. We used it recently as a focus for our Staff Prayer for the end of the year.
The sunshine and warmth of our Australian summer don’t help us to appreciate what the artist is trying to do in this image. It is a quite black painting. Our eyes are naturally drawn to the light coming from the Christ-child, and this is of course the artist’s intention. But let’s pause for a moment on the blackness.
The 25th of December was chosen by the Church as the date to celebrate Christ’s birth because in the northern hemisphere it is darkest period of the year. Cold. Lifeless. Absent of promise. ‘Christ- Mass’ is celebrated at the darkest hour of the darkest day – at midnight. In the painting, the darkness is all-enveloping; the paltry light from the two human-made lanterns is having no effect at all.
Rembrandt is a master of the play of light on human faces, but usually the source of light is a lamp or a window. Here it is not. It is Christ. And Christ is in their midst – indeed in the midst of their darkness. Everyone’s focus is entirely on Christ, and Christ’s radiance reaches each one of them.
Their personal lives are etched into their faces; each one has a story. None of them is perfect or idealised, not even Mary and Joseph. Each of them is a person who has lived; each carries the scars and hurts of life. Yet now each of these faces reflects peace, inner joy, and a sense of hope. Christlife born in them. And each one is quite captured by that.
Christmas is not essentially about something that happened in history two millennia ago. The power and richness of celebrating Christmas each year is that Christ continues to be born – in us. Christ is born in the very midst of our ordinary lives, and most especially when light, and hope, and a sense of promise are most diminished in our lives. Let’s, all of us, be open to that and, like the figures in Rembrandt’s painting, simply be in awe of what that might mean in our lives.
It will mean, if we are indeed open to it, a whole new perspective, one that does indeed offer hope, and joy, and peace in the very stuff of our day-to-day lives.
May you and your family enjoy the wonder of Christmas. May its blessings carry you gently and surely through 2019.
Br Michael Green fms