Truthful Magic in Christmas Art–Come See!

Christmas art is truthful and magical. That is what I thought while viewing an exhibit with a special six-year-old at First Presbyterian Church, Colorado Springs. We hope you agree the display’s magical truths are worthy below. Some of the artists focused on the Advent theme of Jesus coming to and for His beloved.

May each of you have a magical Christmas as you celebrate the Gift of all gifts! Thank you very much for reading “There’s a Blog in My Eye” in 2016.

Into Our Wilderness

Branch of New Life by Gayle Nichols
“Branch of New Life,” by Gayle Nichols

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1).

 

 

“A Straight Path,” artist  Joni Ware

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight” (Matthew 3:3).

Margo's Lane
“Margo’s Lane,” photographer Bob Justis
"Wilderness Path," artist Nancy Brady
“Wilderness Path,” artist Nancy Brady

 

Light of Angels and Stars

"The Annunciation," by Billy Meazell
“The Annunciation,” artist Billy Meazell

Artist Meazell writes: “This painting shows the Luke 1:26-43 scene of the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary to tell her of her favor by God to give birth to the Christ child. The Holy Spirit (as a dove) shines over Mary, and Gabriel holds a lily which portends Christ’s death.”

Artist Ware writes: "In this painting I want to show a star of Bethlehem and how it invades the darkness, showing the beginning of Christ's Light and Love."
Artist Joni Ware: “In this painting I want to show a star of Bethlehem and how it invades the darkness, showing the ‘Beginning of Christ’s Light and Love.'”

 

“Beloved, I am coming for you!” by artist Mary Sue Copeland

Artist Mary Sue Copeland writes about her watercolor: “From Genesis to Revelation, God calls to us that we are His beloved and He is coming for each of us. He sent his son Jesus Christ, fully human and fully God, to save us. This is the Christmas story.”

An enlarged portion of artist Copeland’s painting.

“Glory to God in the Highest”

“The Angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you

"The Angel" by Kang Lee Sheppard Brown
“The Angel” by Kang Lee Sheppard Brown

good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

“Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'”

Peace to All

"A Light Has Come...." by Kendall Elass
“A Light Has Come….” by Kendall Elass
"God Is with Us," artist Christie Lee
“God Is with Us,” artist Christie Lee

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Good News" by artist Nancy Brady announcing the birth of Jesus
“Good News” by artist Nancy Brady, announcing the birth of Jesus

Safe Passage

“Rescue Mission” (Matthew 1:23)  by artist Marlene Kort

Artist Marlene Kort writes, “It is God’s amazing love story that He will persistently seek, find, and save us. How often are we an island to ourselves? We may have accidentally become lost, intentionally isolated ourselves, or hidden away out of fear, anger, or shame. Like a ship to the rescue, our hope is secure in the Lord. He is coming to find us to provide safe passage and reconciliation with Him.”

"Hope" from photography Caren Clarke, representing Advent Candle 2. "Even in the midst of a storm there is always hope.
“Hope” from photographer Caren Clarke’s Advent series, representing Advent Candle 2. “Even in the midst of a storm there is always hope.”

He Comes!

“The Promised Messiah Has Come!” by artist Bob Simpich

Artist Bob Simpich writes: “The Jewish people long awaited the prophecy of the Messiah to be fulfilled. Seven hundred years [prior to Jesus’s birth] it had been spoken by Isaiah.

“The sign of the Star was to lead the wisemen from the east to the place of His birth. The wonder of the shepherds seeing the star, and hearing the proclamation of the heavenly Host of the good news was almost more than they could bear.

“Now he was here, and with him came more than they had ever dreamed. The hope of the ages had come ‘with healing on His wings.’ Nothing could stop his mission. His was a mission of Love. Joy had materialized….’This is the Lord your Savior. His love and truth are for you. He has a name for you. He calls you His ‘beloved.’

“The painting [above] attempts to visualize somehow the act of love and healing and forgiveness that Jesus brings to all who believe, and will come to believe on His name. His total mission was to conquer death on the cross and now all believers await for his second coming and to be with Him at the place He has prepared for us!”

Joy to the World

Circles of "Unending Love"
“Unending Love” by Nancy Brady, who writes, “Circles symbolizing God’s unending love for all of us.”

 

"Out of the Darkness of Stone" by artist Gayle Nichols
“Out of the Darkness of Stone” (Colossians 1:13) by Gayle Nichols. She writes: “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son. ‘Looking out into the light.'”

Stand Up and Sing

"Time to Stand Up and Sing" by Gayle Nichols.
“Time to Stand Up and Sing” (Song of Solomon 2:11-12) by Gayle Nichols. “The winter has past…the flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come.”
Artist Pegi Ballenger’s painting is titled “How Lovely on the Mountains” taken from Isaiah 52:7: “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God Reigns.'”

 

 

Joni says, "Infant Jesus painted in oils in the center of a tree slice that shows age rings. I wanted this to show the significance of the birth of Jesus to all generations."
“Jesus, born for all Generations” by artist Joni Ware and used as lead art above, was displayed in a previous Advent art exhibit. Joni says, “Infant Jesus is painted in oils in the center of a tree slice that shows age rings. I wanted this to show the significance of the birth of Jesus to all generations.”

 

 

 

Advent Animals Series: The Lamb and the Serpent

In this series of Advent animals we now come to the Lamb of God and the Serpent. Both are in Bethlehem–along with shepherds, wisemen, Mary, Joseph, donkey, sheep, and camels.

Perhaps the Ancient Deceiver, disguised as a snake, doesn’t pick up immediately that something BIG is happening in this insignificant sheep town. Then, he hears angelic hosts singing, “Glory to God.”

A serpent's head

Such singing really stings. The Serpent, aka Satan, has stopped cow-towing to God long ago and prefers feasting on violence and death. It doesn’t take him long to slither his thoughts to King Herod. Soon, all Bethlehem boys, ages two and under, are slaughtered (Matthew 2).

Hanging by a Thread

Although our salvation hangs by a threat, the Lamb of God is completely safe under God’s will. Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt with enough Christmas gifts to keep them comfortable until they return to Nazareth after Herod dies.

Joni says, "Infant Jesus painted in oils in the center of a tree slice that shows age rings. I wanted this to show the significance of the birth of Jesus to all generations."
“Jesus, born for all Generations” by Joni Ware. Joni, my friend, says, “Infant Jesus is in oils in the center of a tree slice that shows age rings. I wanted this to show the significance of the birth of Jesus to all generations.”

“Behold the Lamb of God”

From Genesis to Revelation, the story of the Lamb of God is a connecting thread. Also, throughout scripture, is the thread of the Serpent: this Ancient Foe, who does everything imaginable to keep the Messiah from entering the world through King David’s line.

In the Old Testament it is the blood of lambs that protects the Israelites  in Egypt while the Angel of Death passes over each house. Families whose door posts bear no blood mark suffer the death of their firstborn sons (Exodus 12). For centuries thereafter, the yearly Jewish Passover requires many sacrifices of spotless lambs. It is into this context John the Baptist announces Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

The Serpent Has a Bible Thread Too

In Genesis 3 we read that God says to the Serpent, “Because you have done this [deceived man and woman to disobey], cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The crushed head is more than your typical snake-rake killing. The promise to Adam and Eve is one of hope and rescue. But it is costly. God himself must leave home to become a baby and make us holy and wholly healed.

What an incredible story that turns rationality upside-down! God stoops to be a baby and experience what we experience—growing up, with its good, bad, and ugly. He is tempted as we are tempted, but he does not falter–ever. The perfect lamb is sacrificed for us. We are the “joy set before him” that compels him to the cross. Now, life and resurrection await all who believe. Our good God just can’t help being good and rescuing his wayward little folk.

Bible Story for Grown-ups

If you desire a more grown up version of the Christmas story than Luke 2, read Revelation 12. In this metaphoric depiction of warfare in heaven and earth, Satan is called a dragon, which comes from the Greek word “drakon,” to look; fascinate.

Lion and lamb

Of course, Revelation is scary, fascinating horror, unless the reader zeroes in on the Lamb of God. As John struggles to capture this vision he writes: “I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll.…I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain….And he went and took the scroll…and the elders fell down before the Lamb singing a new song.

John doesn’t miss a beat morphing a slain lamb with a resurrected lion. He records:

The New Song

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation….

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” (from Revelation 22, ESV).

This story has a happy ending and is our Merry Christmas. Baby Jesus grows up to be the Lamb of God. Some day, He promises, earth’s troubles will be rolled up like a scroll. The Lamb will return to rule, and that Serpent gets thrown into a lake of fire.

John concludes:

The Lamb in Revelation 22

“Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed.

The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age…” (Revelation 22:1-5, The Message).

Stained Glass Lamb

Christmas Animal Series: Camels, Ships of the Desert

King Herod’s palace is in an uproar. Wisemen from the East, arriving on camels, are asking, “”Where is the child born to be King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him?”

Camels can take the heat and wind.

Jerusalem scholars have studied that incredible star, too. But they don’t tell Herod it means the birth of a new king, because that would mean, “Off with their heads!”  Instead, the scribes deceive. Possibly they tell the paranoid King the star is a sign of God’s good pleasure on his reign. After all, hadn’t Herod recently restored their beloved temple?

Whatever mumble jumble the priests conjure up apparently appeases Herod until those pesky foreigners arrive. Assuming the new prince is at the palace, the visitors innocently ask, “Where is he?”

When Herod meddles, all hell breaks forth. He demands the truth, and his scribes quote Prophet Micah:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2, NIV version).

Exceedingly Great Joy!

Picture the wisemen’s “exceedingly great joy” when they leave the palace and see that the beautiful star has reappeared over Bethlehem. The caravan plods those final six miles. Then, camels kneel so the wisemen can dismount. The foreigners go into a simple home and worship the baby, offering gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Of course this humble environment is acceptable. They recognize the King of kings is not meant just for Bethlehem or Judea but for everywhere. That night as they sleep they experience the same dream. It holds a command: “Do not revisit Herod and tell him about this baby. Go home a different route.”

In the morning those wisemen compare their dreams and hurriedly break camp. Their camels can run top speed for an hour if they need to, and without heavy loads some camels easily go 12 to 25 mph. Those long necks and adorable heads press into the journey home.

One Camel Problem

Three puppet camels
Three camels for a nativity program.

However, there is a caveat. Camels are not mentioned in the Bible’s Christmas story, but logic dictates these “ships of the desert” were the transportation of choice. The Bible doesn’t mention how many wisemen there were either. Church tradition reasons there were three gifts, therefore, three wisemen. But I sense there were more men and maybe more gifts.  The wisemen, probably from Iran where Prophet Daniel lived long before, needed lots of camels and servants for protection and provisions on their long journey.

Bible Camels

Like the donkey, the camel is not kosher food for the Jewish people. In the Old Testament, however, camels are counted as a sign of wealth. They are used mainly as pack animals and for farm labor.

Whether they possess one hump or two, camels daily eat about nine pounds of food and drink up to 50 gallons of water. Their tough tongues handle thorns and wood, but they prefer leaves, grass, and figs. Two sets of eye lashes protect their sight from desert wind and sand. Of course, those fatty humps of reserve allow them to endure thirst and starvation for many days.

Camels in the New Testament

Although the camel is rarely mentioned in the New Testament, notations are worthy.

The gospels tell us the Holy Family flees to Egypt to escape King Herod’s wrath. Can you imagine a toddler in Egypt pointing a chubby finger at camels? Perhaps some gracious Egyptian merchant allows the little boy to sit behind his camel’s hump and touch the fur.

The New Testament tells us the Holy Family returns to Nazareth after King Herod dies. Just before Jesus begins his adult ministry his cousin John the Baptist announces, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent!” John, in the tradition of Old Testament prophets, knows how to get people buzzing about his “brand.” Unlike the pharisees and scribes who flaunt the Versace and Dior of their day, John wears camel hair tied with a leather belt.

Teacher Jesus and Camels

In his teaching there are only two recorded times Jesus uses the camel as an outrageous picture to condemn Jerusalem’s spiritually blind leaders. Remember the camel stands seven feet high at its hump and can weigh over 1000 pounds:

Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”

That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked.

Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.” (Mark 10:23-27, The Message)

And,

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24, Berean Study Bible).

Camel Knees

The only other New Testament connection I found about camels concerns Jesus’ follower James the Just, who also possesses an unusual nickname. This author of the Book of James writes much about prayer.  Bible Gateway explains, “Because of his habit of always kneeling in intercession for the saints, his knees became calloused like a camel’s; thus he became known as ‘The Man with Camel’s Knees.’”

Camels and Us

As I think about the camels of Christmas I am drawn to their ability to endure

Camel and heart by Tom Taylor
Colorado artist Tom Taylor has a love theme around numerous animals, including this camel. His art can be found at https://www.saatchiart.com.

heavy loads and persevere. When resources are few, the camels have their built up fatty humps to help them survive. These animals develop calluses on bended knees. For us, too, preparation when possible and perseverance during hard times on praying knees are not shabby gifts to offer the Savior.

As Camel Knees writes, “My friends, follow the example of the prophets who spoke for the Lord. They were patient, even when they had to suffer….The prayer of an innocent person is powerful, and it can help a lot. Elijah was just as human as we are, and for three and a half years his prayers kept the rain from falling. But when he did pray for rain, it fell from the skies and made the crops grow” (James 5:10, 16-18 CEV).

<><><><><><

Below is a two-minute Youtube video about a camel who recently won a weight lifting competition in Pakistan. Notice this animal’s calloused, bended knees; patient strength; and amazing height.

https://youtu.be/dGOWhRSIFnM