by Pr. David Mumme and Prof. Bill Bukowski –
In Christmas season 2018, Trinity Ev. Lutheran Church (LCMS), Waterville, Minnesota, dedicated a new commissioned painting by Bethany Lutheran College Professor Bukowski. This one, depicting the Nativity, joins others picturing the Lord’s Supper and the Resurrection. In a Christmas Eve service Pastor Mumme used the themes in the painting to highlight the Christmas gospel. (Click on the picture to enlarge it.)
+ Jesu Juva +
The Nativity of Our Lord—Children’s Christmas Service
St. Luke 2:1-7
Dearly beloved in the Lord: We are blessed this year to have a new painting of the Nativity of our Lord which will soon be hung between the stained class windows up here on your right. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. For tonight the children of our church will be asking and answering the question: What Child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? And the painting itself proclaims the answer. So that’s where I want to direct your attending this evening.
Notice, first of all, that Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus are in the center, as they should be in every celebration of Christmas. The artist has painted this picture as though we ourselves have entered the stable, and are holding a lamp out over the manger, asking, “What Child is this?” And there, around the holy family we find the answer.
The ox and the donkey on the right are a reminder that Jesus was born in a stable because there was no room for them in the inn. But they also take us back to the book of Isaiah—written 700 years before the birth of Jesus—which says, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand” (1:3). What Isaiah is saying is that animals are often more perceptive than we are. For “the ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib,” but we human beings often do not know our Creator, and even God’s people very often do not understand what He has said and done for them. On that first Christmas Eve the ox and the donkey were given a front row seat to see the birth of their Maker, and thus the ox was given to know its true Owner, and the donkey its true Master’s crib. And we get to learn from them this evening that this Child is none other than our Creator and King. Indeed, they proclaim to us: “This, this is Christ the king, / Whom shepherds guard and angels sing; / Haste, haste to bring Him laud, / The babe, the son of Mary!”
On the left side of the painting you see a little lamb. And when do, you probably think, “How cute!” But lambs in the Bible were not for cuddling, but for sacrificing. For it was by the blood of a lamb that the Lord rescued His people Israel from their slavery in Egypt. They painted its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, so that the destroying angel would see it and pass over, sparing their first-born sons. And they roasted its flesh over a fire and ate it as a sacred meal of salvation. But now all other lambs have been given a reprieve. For “Behold,” this Child is “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). His blood will be painted on the beams of a cross, so that all who take refuge in His death and resurrection will be spared from eternal destruction. And His body and body are still given to His people to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of their sins. This lamb, then, is a reminder that “Nails, spear shall pierce Him through, / the cross be borne for me, for you; / Hail, hail, the Word made flesh, / The babe, the son of Mary!”
And behind the lamb, leaning against the wall, there is a rod and a staff, the common tools of a shepherd. Our Lord’s first visitors on that holy night would have carried just such things. But here they are a subtle reminder of exactly what Child this is. He is the very Lord who is our shepherd. Who will say, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11). Indeed, His words and His promises are His rod and Him staff, that comfort us even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. For He is with us! And assures us: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (Jn 10:27-28). That is this Child’s promise to you, and to all!
Look, then, at this painting, and listen as the children of the church ask and answer the question, “What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?” And then do as they invite you to do: “Raise, raise the song on high, / The virgin sings her lullaby; / Joy, joy, for Christ is born, / The babe, the son of Mary!”
God grant you a blessed Christmas. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +