Bishop Tyson’s Christmas Column
During Christmas I thought I’d leave you – our web page and Facebook readers – with this beautiful image of Rembrandt’s depiction of the Nativity of our Lord. Perhaps better than any other artist, this seventeenth-century Dutch painter best captures through paint and brush the incandescence of humanity and divinity coming together in Jesus Christ.
How is this coming together of divinity and humanity even possible? In his writings, spiritual mystic St. John of the Cross draws an analogy to fire and wood. Any of us who has ever sat inside a house with wood burning in the fireplace can readily grasp this image.
St. John writes, “Although the fire has penetrated the wood, transformed it, and united it with itself, yet as this fire grows hotter and continues to burn, so the wood becomes much more incandescent and inflamed, even to the point of flaring up and shooting out flames from itself.”
St. John of the Cross seems to suggest that this uniting of humanity and divinity actually allows humanity to glow. It’s somewhat akin to the wonderful artwork of the painter Rembrandt who, in his own visual depiction of the Nativity, depicts light as emanating – not from outside the crèche but from within – from the very person of the newborn Jesus.
The famous British journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, tells the story of following Mother Teresa on her daily rounds on the streets of Calcutta with a film crew. They entered a small shelter for the dying with no electric lights where sick people were lying, waiting to be attended by her and her fellow Missionary Sisters of Charity.
Malcolm Muggeridge directed his crew to begin to film Mother Teresa. His film crew told him, “there’s not enough light.” He insisted that they do so anyway. When they all returned to the studios and reviewed the film, much to their surprise, the scene of Mother Teresa was clearly visible due to a strange and odd glow that seemed to emanate from inside the room just like in a Rembrandt painting.
Let me suggest that this is what can happen to us too. Just as “fire” and “wood” become blurred with the wood itself fueling the fire, so too, when God’s divine love touches us we can become a source of human warmth sparking precisely because of God’s love in our lives. When the flame of God’s love touches us – while remaining ourselves – we can also become more spiritually bright.
Isn’t that precisely what our world now needs? Does not the threat of global terrorism, the poor treatment of refugees and migrants, the constant fear of deportation, the poor treatment of the environment, and the plight of the unborn suggest a kind of darkness of the human spirit and a kind of coldness of the human heart?
Let us resolve to allow others to experience the warmth of Christ’s love in and through us – his followers. May our lives become like a Rembrandt painting glowing with Christ’s light, illuminating his way for those around us. Merry Christmas!
Fraternally yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson
Bishop of Yakima