Every year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there is displayed, beneath the great Christmas tree, a beautiful 18th century Neapolitan nativity scene. In many ways it is a very familiar scene. The usual characters are all there: shepherds roused from sleep by the voices of angels; the exotic wise men from the East seeking, as Auden once put it, “how to be human now”; Joseph; Mary; the babe. All are there, each figure an artistic marvel of wood, clay, and paint. There is, however, something surprising about this scene, something unexpected here, easily missed by the casual observer. What is strange here is that the stable, the shepherds and the cradle are set, not in the expected small town of Bethlehem, but among the ruins of mighty Roman columns. The fragile manger is surrounded by broken and decaying columns. The artists knew the meaning of this event: The gospel, the birth of God’s new age, was also the death of the old world.
Herods know in their souls what we perhaps have passed over too lightly: God’s presence in the world means finally the end of their own power. They seek not to preserve the birth of God’s new age but to crush it. For Herod, the gospel is news too bad to be endured; for Mary, Joseph and all the other characters it is news too good to miss. (Thomas G. Long, Something Is About To Happen, via eSermons.com newsletter)
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