“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” ~ Luke 2:10, ESV
Angels constantly remind people that they don’t need to be afraid. Yet, angels in most depictions appear to be quite friendly. It’s as though they don’t appear as we expect them to in our art and imagination. As though perhaps we have domesticated angels in the way that we have domesticated Christmas. No longer a hard-fought night on the road in a cave that reeks of animals, Christmas has been translated into a season of pleasure, framed in terms of “comfort and joy.”
If we are to learn from Christmas, we discover that comfort and joy are not truly found in trappings of pleasurable surroundings. Peace, comfort, and joy find their fullness in the very moments where we are unsettled. It is then, when we are exposed and vulnerable, that we come to realize that God and others are there to uphold us in the midst of our vulnerability. Our willingness to be vulnerable with one another opens up a world in which we are gifts to one another rather than competitors. Jean Vanier reminds us in last year’s interview with Ian Brown that “What we have to do is find the places of hope” amidst the fear and anxiety that rules modern life.
In reading the first chapters of Luke, Amy Julia Becker also reflects on hope. In her time of shock and fear, Mary relies on God’s promises and the encouragement of Elizabeth to bring her peace in God’s faithfulness. As Amy Julia observes, “Hope depends upon God’s promises, but the way we have access to hope is as we speak the truth of those promises into one another’s lives.” It is only after her visit with Elizabeth that we hear Mary’s Magnificat, her great song of praise (Luke 1:46-55).
Andrea Mategna’s powerful paintings of the Virgin and Child remind me of the initial shock and fear that many parents experience when they discover that their child was born with a disability. It is difficult for God’s promises to seem like a present reality in their lives if they don’t have “Elizabeths” to come alongside them and speak words of hope into their lives. More than this, though, Mantegna’s art reminds me that God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This is not somehow an exception to God’s glory, or a compromise of God’s glory, but the essence of God’s glory: grace and truth incarnate. God became not only a human being, but a vulnerable baby, a homeless man, a condemned criminal, and a disabled God (re: Eiseland). God became present to us, and as Hans Reinders beautifully describes in Disability, Providence, and Ethics, “God’s promise is his presence.”
A post on disability in Renaissance art includes a quote by Dr. Brian Stratford, a specialist in developmental disabilities at the University of Nottingham. Stratford infers that Mantegna and other artists who depict children with disabilities wanted to highlight their shared appreciation of the humanity of children with Down syndrome: “Perhaps Mantegna saw in this child something beyond the deficiencies which now so occupy our attention and perhaps then, the qualities of love, forgiveness, gentleness, and innocence were more readily recognized. Maybe Mantegna saw these qualities as more representative of Christ than others we now regard so highly.”
It is not generally in spite of disruption to our comfort zones, but because we are forced to encounter the world through different eyes, that we come to a greater recognition of who God is and who we are as human beings created in God’s image. For Mary and the shepherds, it took an angelic interruption to reveal God’s hope for humanity. These days, it may only take the counter-cultural shock of encountering someone who is fully present to remind us of God’s promises in our lives. This Christmas season, amidst the hustle and bustle of an over-commercialized holiday, may we be ever-present reminders of God’s incarnate faithfulness.
For more Christmas-themed festivities, check out:
- Key Ministry: The Challenges of Christmas for our Special Needs Family
- Travel tips for a Merrier Christmas from Dr. Lorna Bradley
- Supporting Persons with Disabilities through the Holidays from Barbara J Newman and the CLC Network
- Amy Julia Becker: What if You Don’t Need to Be Successful? (Or, Advent Reflections on Joy)
- A tremendous rendition of “Hallelujah”
Finally, “He Came Down” Nativity: