“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7 (NRSV)
“The Holy Family with Angels” by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1645 (public domain; http://www.the-athenaeum.org)
Merry Christmas to all! May the celebration of Christ’s birth fill you with peace and joy.
In the painting above Rembrandt showed the holy family with angels descending from heaven in a setting typical of an Amsterdam family of his day. He did so to appeal to the Dutch people in his country. The holy family was truly human.
Mary sits in a low chair and turns her eyes away from her book to cast a loving glance at her firstborn child, Jesus, asleep in his cradle.
Jesus is covered with a red blanket to keep him warm and to symbolize his sacrifice on the cross where his blood was shed for the salvation of the world.
Joseph is in the background fashioning a yoke symbolizing that Jesus will one day encourage his followers to take up their yokes and follow him in lives of faithful service.
Angels descend from heaven to adore God Himself in the flesh in the vulnerable, sleeping baby, Jesus, tucked gently in his bed.
Divine light illuminates the angels, Mary, and Jesus. Jesus will later identify himself as the Light of the World shining brightly with love for humanity of every time and every place.
Everything seems so sweet, so serene, and so peaceful in Rembrandt’s painting of the holy family. The only sounds one can think of in his painting may be an occasional cry from Jesus, the turning of a page in Mary’s book, or the sawing of wood from Joseph’s woodworking shop – all sounds of a safe, secure, and peaceful family life.
But as this reflection is written all is not peaceful in this world. Gunshots were fired in a French Christmas market and people lost their lives. Bomb from air strikes exploded in Yemen and many civilians have lost their lives in that civil war. A two year old boy found a gun in his father’s backpack and accidentally fired that gun to wound himself and his older brother. No, not all is peaceful, not all is safe, and not all is calm in this world corrupted with sin and evil.
But this Jesus born into such humble and peaceful conditions would face betrayal by one of his followers. He would be subject to beatings and mockery. He would be hung on a cross like a common criminal. There would be no peace for Jesus as he freely journeyed to the cross for your salvation and for mine.
Before he died, Jesus promised the gift of peace to all who followed him. He said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27 NRSV)
Jesus gives us the peace which the world cannot give. It is a peace which is beyond our understanding as Saint Paul reminds us in Philippians chapter four. It is a peace so that we let go of worries; it is a peace where fears are turned into joy; and it is a peace where anxiety fades and hope reigns. Grounded in Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we live an abundant life and are free to love God and our neighbors.
This Christmas I pray that the Holy Spirit gives you peace and joy as you celebrate the birth of God’s only Son, the Holy Child of Bethlehem.