Art historian Seymour Slive described the great Dutch artist Rembrandt (1606–1669) as the master of light and shadow, a compelling storyteller on canvas. Rembrandt’s painting The Adoration of the Shepherds portrays the darkened stable in Bethlehem where two shepherds kneel beside the manger while other people stand farther away. One man holds a lantern, but the brightest light shines not from his lantern but from the Christ-child, illuminating those who have gathered close to Him.
Seven centuries before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah used an image of light and shadow to foretell the coming of a Savior for Israel: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. . . . For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isa. 9:2,6).
Each person may see a different story in Rembrandt’s painting, but perhaps each of us is represented somewhere in that stable. Are we kneeling in worship, standing back in hesitation, or hiding from the light that has penetrated our darkness?
Christmas invites us to step out of the shadows of darkness and to allow the light of Christ to shine into our hearts.
Is only a passing delight;
But when we experience Christ’s presence,
Our darkness is turned into light. —Hess