Do we think of our Creator a creative type?
If we were playing Family Feud under the category of Creative Type, I’m pretty sure the survey would come up with answers like: absent-minded, clever, quirky, fun to be with, hard to marry, occasionally genius . . . not exactly the kind of answers that would come up under the category of Sovereign God.
Let’s be honest, most popular theologians have earned their voice by being a Type A personality. These are people with doctorates, people that have established a platform by building churches or starting organizations. It’s no wonder their perception of God tends to mirror their own values.
I think we need to develop another lens in our biblical interpretation. If we want to understand the creative expressions of God, shouldn’t we explore the thought processes of our most talented artists? How do they see the world? How do they express themselves?
Check out this quote from “Story,” by Robert McKee:
Symbolism is very compelling. Like images in our dreams, it invades the unconscious mind and touches us deeply—as long as we’re unaware of its presence. If, in a heavy-handed way, we label images as “symbolic,” their effect is destroyed. But if they are slipped quietly, gradually, and unassumingly into the telling, they move us profoundly.
If there was ever a moment for God to inject subtle symbolism into a story, it would have to be the Incarnation. All we have to do is look at a Christmas Card and we can see the nature and mission of Christ, as long as we think like an artist.
It was a star that signaled the coming of the Messiah, a star that drew the wise men to look for him. A star is a light in the heavens, which is appropriate, considering this person is coming from heaven and claiming to be the Light of the World.
A discussion of light and darkness is not a discussion of good and evil, but truth and ignorance. Jesus said that men stumble because they walk in darkness, listening to the Father of Lies. Sin is not a result of some evil gene, but a natural result of ignorance. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Truth came to an ignorant world. That’s why God said, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”
There were no wise men in Bethlehem. The angelic announcement came to shepherds. Why shepherds? What could possibly be accomplished by having some local shepherds come and look at a baby? Did they do anything after that?
Jesus claimed to be the Good Shepherd. He is the divine caretaker of his flock, providing, protecting and guiding. Putting shepherds at the manger only adds to the symbolic advertisement of Christ’s benevolent nature and mission.
Why a manger? Why not a bed, like everyone else? On the surface, we would automatically think of a manger birth as an act of divine humility, but thinking as an artist, we would have to consider the presentation. A manger is food trough. From an animal’s perspective, Jesus was born and immediately placed on a dinner plate. Why the association with food?
Jesus said, “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” He claimed to be the Bread of Life, the true Bread from Heaven. The people had a hard time thinking of a man as food and stopped listening, though I suspect the Donner Party would have probably stuck around to hear more.
If we think artistically, we can understand that Jesus is not speaking literally. Food does for the body what Christ does for our spirits. We are nourished. We are strengthened. In essence, we are what we eat.
So we look at a Christmas Card and see three key elements: The Light of the World, the Good Shepherd and the Bread of Life, all benefits of an estranged creation reunited with its Creator.
BONUS ROUND: THE GIFTS OF THE WISE MEN
Three gifts? That should immediately get our attention, just like the three years of Christ’s ministry, the three crosses, or the three days in the grave. Think of the number three as God’s signature.
A simple biblegateway search will show that a majority of references to gold, frankincense and myrrh come during the description of the tabernacle in Exodus. The Holy Place had three key objects—the lampstand, table of showbread and altar of incense. All were coated in gold. In fact, everything you could see from floor to ceiling was gold. The key ingredient to the oil that anointed all the holy objects was myrrh, and the key ingredient in the incense on the altar was frankincense, generating a white smoke. Basically, if you stepped into the Holy Place, your senses would be assaulted by gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Jesus was staring at the temple when he said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” He must have associated himself with the building. He gravitated toward it, even as a child. He taught there. He kicked the moneychangers out. That was where the sacrifices were made. That was where people met with God.
Appropriate, considering his name: Emmanuel. God with Us.