Day 4 – Number the Stars of Heaven: Reflection, Questions, and Art During Advent

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About the Art: Vincent van Gogh, The Starry Night, 1889, Oil on canvas, 73.7 cm × 92.1 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Click here to learn about this work and see the full painting.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) painted The Starry Night in an asylum, during the daytime, from memory, one year before he took his own life. The painting came from what made Vincent so compelling– a mind ablaze with color, motion, and wonder.

After he finished the painting, he wrote that he considered The Starry Night to be failure because the stars were too big and abstract. One reason the painting did not sit well with him was because in it he intentionally experimented with a type of abstraction that was becoming increasingly popular in the art world. When he looked at The Starry Night, he felt he had sold himself out a little by pandering to a commercial trend.

And yet, Vincent was captured by the sky. He painted it often, and spoke of it as being a way he communed with God and found some measure of peace for his tormented mind. Vincent was a deeply wounded man and in a letter to his brother Theo he confessed his “tremendous need for, shall I say the word—for religion—so I go outside at night to paint the stars.”

Vincent wrote, “It would be so simple and would account so much for the terrible things in life, which now amaze and wound us so, if life had yet another hemisphere, invisible it is true, but where one lands when one dies.”

The Starry Night, this product of Vincent’s imagination, remains one of the world’s most treasured works of art because Vincent wasn’t the only one who found glory, hope, and wonder in the stars. God made them to stir the deep waters of our souls.

 

Consider

“God bid Abram to behold the depths of heaven and to number its stars if he could. Answering Abram’s fears with a spectacle of glory under that midnight sky, God assured him that his descendants would outnumber and outshine these stars, and his descendants, his heirs, would take possession of the land the Lord had sworn to him—this Promised Land.

“Was this a promise Abram could believe? Could he keep putting his trust in something he had not yet experienced, or for that matter, in something he could never do for himself? If Abram was to trust at all, it would have to be a living, daring confidence that God would do what he said he would do.

“Abram believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. But this promise was about more than boundary lines and heirs. There was a reason for God’s blessing. Abram understood that the Lord had not come to him merely to make him a wealthy landowner with many sons. This was not why God called him out of Ur. From Abram, this descendant of Shem, the son of Noah, the descendant of Seth, the son of Adam and Eve, all the nations of the earth would be blessed.

“God had told him, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” God wasn’t calling Abram’s future descendants primarily to land or power. He was calling them to himself. He was the ultimate prize.”[1]

 

Examine

God used the glory of a starlit desert sky to serve as a visual for what he intended to do with Abraham’s descendants. Has God ever used a glorious image or experience to strengthen your faith? If so, what was it?

The promise God made to Abraham was one God himself would have to keep. Abraham had no control over seeing God’s promises come to pass. Are there any promises from God that you are personally trying to keep for him—promises of provision, future security, etc? What are they? Why are you trying to control the outcomes?

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[1] Ramsey, Russ. Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative. Nashville: Rabbit Room Press, 2011. pgs. 24-25.

 

 

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Russ Ramsey
Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.

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