Advent & Art: Using Art to Abide in Christ Throughout the Christmas Season

Day 1 of 4 • This day’s reading

Devotional

Tension Between Hope & Hardship


In her book Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, Fleming Rutledge says, "Advent contains within itself the crucial balance of the now and the not-yet that our faith requires" (p. 7). 


While this season echoes the refrain "it's the most wonderful time of the year" and "feel the merry" is printed on your coffee cup, the reality is that disappointment, brokenness, and suffering are still felt among many, especially those who experience physical, emotional, or spiritual hardships. As Rutledge says, "In that Advent tension, the church lives its life… The Advent season encourages us to resist denial and face our situation as it really is" (p. 8).


The writer of Psalm 25 knew the reality of the tension Rutledge mentions. His cry to God is for salvation over his enemies (v. 2) and forgiveness from his youthful transgressions (v. 7). He lifts his soul up to God, a metaphor for saying that his life depends completely and only on the help of God. No one else can save him from physical or spiritual distress except Yahweh. 


Thus, he waits on God and places his full hope in Him. The writer's last statement can be heard by echoing this hope that God will one day will bring salvation to His people: "Redeem Israel, O God, out of all their troubles!" (v. 22, NKJV). 


Today's artwork that connects to this passage is from an African American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937). Tanner was known for his Realist artwork depicting the dignity of ordinary people. His painting you see below, The Thankful Poor, presumably shows a grandfather and grandson giving thanks before a simple meal on a small table covered with a ragged cloth. This scene for Tanner captured the essence of hardships in the daily lives of black Americans. But instead of painting these figures in a stereotyped, caricaturized (i.e., minstrel imagery), or empathetic depictions, these images were of real everyday experiences of black Americans.


Take a minute to study the painting below. Notice how the soft light glows in a curtained window as the elderly man, hands folded, prays. Look at the boy's face illuminated by the light. Does his face evoke devotion? Thankfulness? Or is he a bit pensive? Remember a time when you faced hardship - maybe you're experiencing it now. What was your reaction through the storm? How did you face each day knowing the future was uncertain?


As we close our first reading for the first week of Advent, take time each day this week to recall Tanner's painting, which communicates the tension of the story we find ourselves in and the story that's not yet complete.