The last few weeks I have been sharing about a painting done for my church during the Christmas Eve services. I want to share a few thoughts about that painting and post the final photos.
This was the third time my pastor has asked me to paint during the service.
The challenge is to create something which will supplement the message, be somewhat complete within two hours, at least understandable at the end of the first, allow me the freedom to explore creatively what the Lord would have me learn and contemplate at that time, and most importantly, tune out all of the distractions of standing on a stage during one of the best attended services of the year and focus on God.
This time I had an image in mind:
Starting with a photo of my first child (who died two weeks after the picture was taken) I thought and drew and contemplated, and prayed over the idea of God incarnate, divinity made flesh.
There isn't any escaping the idea that this infant lying in a feeding trough was intentionally taking on all the frailties of being human, including the inevitable consequences of mortality.
The wounds of the Crucifixion on the infant was not a slowly developed feature of the painting. It was instantaneous. The week before I was to do it, while I was worshipping, the image of an infant floating in a blue sky bearing terrible wounds sprang clearly and fully into my mind.
On that Christmas Eve morn I taped the sketch to the top of the easel and began to worship.
By the end of the first service I had it roughed in, and by the end of the second service it was complete enough for others to see the vision.
But it wasn't finished.
Before the next week was done, I had gone over everything, layering thin veils of gold, pushing back the obvious wounds, making the crown of thorns less even, more natural, emphasizing the eyes and laughing mouth.
But something wasn't quite right about it, and it took my blog readers to point it out.
The crown of thorns was too sharp, too clear. The eye is drawn to fine details (a technique I used to emphasize the laughing eyes and mouth).
Friday I went over that crown of ridicule thrust upon His head, and changed it:
Now the crown placed in mocking tribute is transformed with flaming gold, a hint of a halo, echoes of a golden crown shimmering in His light, His grace, His glory.
And that is the message behind the painting.
He came to Earth, lived a blameless, perfect life, and meekly permitted His own creation to spit upon Him, beat Him, flog Him, nail His body to a cross.
And with that act He permitted me to place my sins atop His suffering. As He was lifted up on those rude pieces of wood, as He supported His weight on pieces of metal piercing His body, He opened a rip in time and allowed me to take all of the nasty, hurtful, angry, petty, disgusting, self-centered actions of my life, and dump it like the offal they are onto His already bruised and outstretched body. They no longer lay upon my shoulders.
And the crown... that hateful, hurtful, horrible crown meant to mock Him was transformed upon His brow into a symbol of glory, of true Kingship. He showed that mere men cannot touch, cannot sully, what is divine, what is glorious... His love, shines beneath that crown through a laughing smile large enough to breathe life into the universe.
He demostrated true kingship. He showed that being a king is not about the honors of men, but is intrinsic to the king himself, to the King Himself.
In the moment He meekly accepted that crown of torture He transformed the meaning of kingship. He made all the coarse humor of Roman soldiers an ironic first tribute to the only true king. For He demonstrated a king is one who loves so greatly that self-sacrifice and loving and serving are a part of being a true leader, a true shepherd.