Eternity Swings on this Moment

Not many artists depict the Christmas story through the eyes of Joseph, but French Baroque painter, Philippe de Champaigne, does just that. Notice the carpentry tools under Joseph’s chair, where he has fallen into a deep sleep. As the story is told in Matthew, Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant and decides to divorce her quietly so she will be spared public disgrace. Then in a dream, an angel of the Lord explains the situation, trying to convince Joseph to do otherwise.

However, even in this scene about Joseph, Mary is a prominent figure. As one art critic put it, “[Champaigne] manages to make a painting of Joseph be almost entirely about Mary.”

Not only is the angel pointing to Mary, but the positioning of Joseph and the angel makes a V-shape that directs the eye in her direction. The angel’s other hand points to heaven, perhaps in an attempt to convince Joseph that there is now a connection between Mary and God that will never end. “Don’t be afraid,” he instructs the dreaming carpenter.

Mary knows that her fate is tied up in the angel getting this right. Her posture is one of waiting. Her arms are folded as if they are holding her together. She looks longingly at the angel. If Joseph is not convinced, what will become of her? Eternity swings on this moment. And Mary has absolutely no control over the outcome.

Have you ever felt like your fate rested in something that was out of your control? Pretty much daily? Waiting can be hard; relying on God for the resources or the answers you long for can be hard. Patience is a discipline that takes humility and trust. Waiting invites us to open our ears and hear God say, “Don’t be afraid.”

Barbara Brown Taylor said, “Our waiting is not nothing. It is something—a very big something—because people tend to be shaped by whatever it is they are waiting for.”

Being Human connection: May your trust muscles grow as you wait upon the Lord.

“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:30

Featured Art: Philippe de Champaigne, The Dream of St. Joseph, 1642-43, National Gallery, London