Hi friends! Today’s devotion is drawn from the world of art. Particularly, today’s devotion is drawn from a particular painting. It is called The Numbering At Bethlehem, and was painted in 1566 by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.[i] Here is the full painting:
On first glance, this is an idyllic winter scene, set in 16th century Europe. But on closer glance, it is anything but peaceful.
First, the large building in the background, which appears it may have once been a church or a castle, is very much in disrepair. Clearly, some kind of hard times fell on this community, and the building which looks like it had defined their downtown is now crumbling. One can’t help but think that’s symbolic of the rest of their lives.
Second, clearly there has been unrest, for there’s a large group of soldiers gathering and getting their orders. The soldiers are decked out in their strongest armor. It appears they expect or are responding to some community problems or violence.
And there was disease in this area. In the small hut in the middle of the painting, a man leans out his door. What he’s waving is called a clapper, and he used it to warn people he was coming. He also has a begging bowl outside his hut. This man has leprosy. He was contagious, shut-in, and shunned.
Still, in the midst of all this pain, the painter gives us beautiful hope. People are building a new house, right in front of the decaying castle.
And a kind stranger is planting food outside the leper’s home, so even the most vulnerable could eat.
And, lining up to pay their taxes, are Mary and Joseph. (And we know the story – the baby Jesus is there too, about to be born!)
They’re barely visible with all that’s going on, but they are there.
And so it is with our lives: There is much happening. Some bad, some good. The events of our days can seem so big that we can miss God. Yet, God is there. God is HERE. Amen.
[i] Bruegel, Pieter. The Numbering at Bethlehem, or The Census at Bethlehem. ©Bridgeman Art Library/ Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium; Shelfmark: Bridgeman Picture Library: LAF-471280. 1566.