Have you ever looked into the face of a tiny baby and wondered what will be in store for that child – how his or her life will unfold across the years?
There is an exquisite painting which hangs in the great museum of The Louvre, in Paris. It is called ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’, by George de la Tour. It shows the Nativity Scene: a dark stable, with Mary, Joseph and the shepherds gazing on the sleeping child Jesus, wrapped in linen and lying on straw. Joseph holds a lighted candle and a lamb feeds on the straw. Joseph’s frail little light reveals the rapt attention of those shepherds, the loving gaze of Mary and his own fascination with the new-born baby.
Are they all wondering who the child will become as he grows? What life has in store for him? Are they asking themselves ‘Will there be a world in which the child can grow and flourish and become a man?’?
Do you wonder this for your own children and grandchildren, for the children who worship here week by week? What kind of world are we bringing them in to? What dangers? What opportunities?
De la Tour’s picture is remarkable because it suggests so poignantly all those very natural human concerns that we might share with the little group gathered around the baby as they look upon the beauty and vulnerability of a tiny child.
But this child, the child of the painting, seems to emit his own strange light – not the light of Joseph’s candle, but a beautiful, searching, spiritual light which shows up the faces of Mary and Joseph and the rough shepherds. The light of the Christ-child shows not only the questions and anxieties in the faces looking down on him, but also their spiritual wonder and prayer and joyful expectation. Somehow this ordinary child casts a light into the darkness which shows the ordinary mother and ordinary husband and ordinary rough old shepherds as extraordinary beautiful, spiritual beings – children of God, reflecting God’s image. The child’s light shows them in God’s light – yes, their flaws and failures and weariness as human beings, but also that they are beloved in God’s eyes, God’s children, vulnerable themselves, in need of love.
De la Tour’s picture, the lovely Crib-scene set up here in church, the Nativity story we celebrate again tonight in word and song, casts us in God’s light. It exposes us: shows up our loss of innocence, our cynicism and selfishness – how taken-up we are in our own concerns, how anxious. And yet that same light of the Christ-child reveals our longing to love and be loved, our capacity for concern and for compassion, the goodness in us which is ours as God’s children.
This child-light has the power to draw us in: it invites us to question, yes, and also to worship and to wonder; to see and search for that which can set us free for grace and love. The Nativity shows the heart of love; the sheer awe and wonder of God’s life. It promises the joy, a deep and lasting joy, which comes from knowing that we are loved by God in Christ.
As you look on the Christ-child tonight, what is your prayer? What do you seek for yourself, your loved-ones, for the world we share?
My prayer is that this story of divine love might throw light on our lives – that we might be enlightened to live for what is good and true. I pray for a deeper sense of wonder and awe and worship in all of our lives – of seeing the goodness that lies at the beating heart of God’s world. I pray that a spirit of awe may shape the picture of our lives.
May the light of Christmas and mystery of God’s love bring you joy. And may that joy uphold you and sustain you.
A happy and blessèd Christmas to each one of you and those you love. Amen