God in Art: Pietà

As we move toward the Christmas season, let’s not forget the larger story. Christ grew in wisdom and stature, and as a man had much to teach us regarding God’s love and expectations for us. Then he died for our sins, restoring us to God.

We can easily imagine Mary holding her son both at his birth and his death, when he was brought down from the crucifixion she witnessed. The Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo beautifully captured the latter moment in a sculpture commissioned in 1497. It is called the Pietà, which in English means “Piety.” It is on display in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

While it is a scene of death, the sculpture certainly can remind us of Christ’s birth. Mary is depicted as remarkably young, more like her age at Jesus’ birth than at his death more than three decades later. Michelangelo also altered the scale of the characters—if the two characters in the sculpture were to stand, Mary would tower over Jesus. And yet, the scene appears astonishingly natural, a mother cradling her son. The image seems to bridge the moments of birth and death.

Dear Lord, in this approaching Christmas season, may we carry in our hearts the full meaning of Christ’s presence among us. Amen.

The God Bearer

It’s time to think about Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, which means it’s time to think big about faith and courage.

God chose Mary, it seems, because she had the right soul for the task. She was young, but Luke 1:46-55 records her remarkable understanding of the meaning of Christ’s coming.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant,” Mary said. She was rejoicing with her much older cousin Elizabeth, who carried in her womb John the Baptist, the prophet who would announce the coming of Jesus’ ministry in adulthood.

As Mary continued in her prophetic rejoicing, she laid out the radical mission of Christ. He brings mercy to those who believe and follow God. He scatters the proud. He brings down the powerful. He lifts up the lowly and the hungry. He does all of this as a fulfillment of a promise made to the world through Abraham long ago.

Christ is, in a word, revolutionary.

Governments and armies still seem to have power, but none can help you establish a relationship with God. At best, they can keep the relationship freely available. Christ on the cross is what changes everything for us.

Mary’s song also serves as a call for us to magnify the Lord. The baby in her womb would reveal God’s nature to all. As the body of Christ on earth today, Christians similarly exhibit God’s Spirit to a hurting world.

Oh, to magnify the Lord in every moment of our lives, to allow revolution to occur in every choice we make. It isn’t easy, of course.

Fortunately, the baby who grew to be a man and live out his mother’s prophecies did not shrink from the difficult task of the cross. May God grant us similar courage in this season.

Lord, thank you for turning the world upside down. Help us to live as people who believe the change is real and ongoing. Amen.