The Adoration of the Magi in Snow
Pieter Bruegel the Elder
1567 - oil on wood
If you, like me, are new to this great work of art, stop here and open this piece full screen. You need to first react to this piece without a lot of commentary.
I showed this piece to our church family at a Wednesday night gathering and simply asked, "What do you see?" I did this without telling them the title of this painting and their observations were intriguing. Here are some of their comments....
"Lots of snow!"
"Looks like people are struggling just to walk."
"Is that a church on the right hand side? Are they building it, repairing it, or tearing it down?"
"All the people are dark."
After a few minutes of hearing their comments I shared the title, "The Adoration of the Magi in Snow" with them. Here's what they said then...
"Jesus wasn't born in the snow!"
"Where are they?"
"I'm pretty sure Bethlehem doesn't look anything like that."
"I don't see any manger scene in this painting."
"Are you sure there are magi in this painting?"
"If this painting is about worshiping the baby Jesus, why is everybody running around doing other stuff?"
Shortly after pointing out the enlightened magi all of their other observations began to coalesce into a firm understanding. Bruegel got the birth of Christ right and the message is inescapably powerful.
John 1:14 states, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." For Christ to come to Bruegel's world that meant a world of cold and darkness; a world of self-absorbed survival. Into the business of drawing water and gathering wood Christ came. In the middle of a busy afternoon Christ arrived. Not in the middle of town but in a stable. Off the beaten path and out of sight. Only those who were looking for Him found Him. This truth speaks to us. We are intimately acquainted with this condition.
After viewing this work by Bruegel I have found myself wondering what he would have painted if he were from Alabama instead of Northern Europe. I'm pretty certain there would be a train passing through town in the background with a couple of log trucks waiting at the crossing gate. There would be some old timers smoking cigarettes outside the auto parts store, a few teenagers oblivious to all but themselves and their cell phones, the trustee's from the local prison cleaning the curbs, and the stop light dutifully changing from red to green. Somewhere on the edge, maybe at the flop house that passes for a hotel in our town, would be the marvelous event. Sure, a few would notice the strangers in town and wonder what was going on but wouldn't be concerned about their presence so long as they didn't hang around too long.
That pretty well sums up our experience with this marvelous event. Whether it's trudging through a relentless snow or through an uninspiring life we're not likely to look up and discover the marvel among us. The very thing that could bring hope to this hopelessness will likely, yet again, pass unnoticed by the vast majority of us as we fight the crowd at the mall or spend unnecessary energy on cleaning the curtains for the company that's coming. He is Immanuel. God with us. Right here. Right now. Oh for the grace to see Him.
(Be sure to read Carol's review of this work and check here for more advent reading.)