Day 25, Son of God, Son of Man – Reflection, Questions, and Art During Advent
About the Art: Peter Paul Rubens, The Adoration of the Shepherds, c. 1609, Oil on canvas, St.-Pauluskerk, Antwerp.
Peter Paul Rubens’s Adoration of the Shepherds is over 13 feet tall and filled with lifelike realism. Some of the figures are close to actual size. This leaves the viewer two ways to look at this canvas. You could go to St. Paul’s Church in Antwerp and look at it from a distance in order to see the scene come together as a whole. Or you could move up close, which would afford you the opportunity to linger over each character and facet of the painting on its own (see some of this intricacy below). The scale and detail of the work will give you plenty to look at.
I’ve chosen this baroque painting for Christmas day because the ways we could look at this Rubens is the same way we can enjoy observing Christmas. We can take a few steps back and consider the whole story—from Eden through the Nativity—and marvel at the grand scope of God’s covenant faithfulness down through time. Or we can come up close to the individual pericopes of the story—Mary seeing her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, Joseph taking the noble path of honoring his bride-to-be, a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, the angel visiting the shepherds on a hill outside Bethlehem, blood-thirsty Herod trying to trick the Magi into revealing Jesus’s location, and we can marvel at the precision of God’s providence.
Both views help us understand what God has done—this miracle of grace we celebrate on Christmas day. We are characters in the story, but we are not the heroes of the story. We are the rescued ones, and the story of Christmas is the fulcrum on which the epic story of the redemption of the world turns. Study the detail, but also delight in the grandeur of the Messiah’s birth. Hope has come.
“Like sheep, every last man, woman, and child had gone astray, each turning to their own way. So the Father sent his Son and laid on him the iniquity of them all. When the time came, Jesus was oppressed and afflicted, but he didn’t defend himself. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, he didn’t open his mouth. Under unjust allegations, Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tried, and put to death as a criminal. But death could not hold him. He had done no violence. He owed it no wage. So as he predicted, he was handed over to die, but three days later he rose from the grave.
“In all of this, Jesus was never the victim of men. No one took his life from him. It was the will of his Father to crush him. It was God who put him through such grief to bear the iniquities of his people, making many unrighteous men righteous.
“As with his baptism, in his life and in his death Jesus stood in the place of the heartbroken and lost. Though this world had never known a greater teacher or more righteous example of how to live, Jesus’ ministry was more than a ministry of words. He was born of a woman because he had come to do something his people couldn’t do for them- selves—bear their sins in his own body on the cross.
“Though no one could have known all of this at the time, Jesus was the priest who became the sacrifice, the king who took on the form of a servant, the prophet who himself was the Word of God. He was Immanuel, God with us—Son of God, Son of Man.”
What are some key ideas and thoughts you have gleaned as a result of this study series? How are those concepts or ideas working their way into your life?
 Ramsey, Russ. Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative. Nashville: Rabbit Room Press, 2011. pgs. 177-178.
Close-up of the infant Jesus’s head:
Shepherds and woman, close-up: