“What do you notice in this painting?” is a question we ask students who pause at our table in the student Union. At Christmas, we displayed “Jose y Maria” by Everett Patterson. Although intriguing, many did not know the story of Jesus’ birth to begin with, neither international students or Americans. In my search for paintings to display I came across “The Census at Bethlehem” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, painted in 1566. Bruegel was Dutch and the scene is a Dutch village in which Mary enters on the donkey led by Joseph. In front of them is a rowdy crowd in front of a building. The sign on the building is the coat of arms for the Hapsburg empire who ruled over the Dutch from Spain under Philip II. The problem for the Dutch was unreasonable taxation on top of their famine and poverty. The slaughter of a pig in the bottom left of the painting suggests that people were so poor they had to kill their animals to satisfy the demands of the government.
And what about Mary and Joseph entering this chaos. They had nothing to offer, no solutions, only a need for shelter and a place to give birth to their promised son. And yet, into a hopeless situation, they brought hope in the form of a Son who will one day rule the world with justice.
I wonder what you and I would illustrate, what chaos would we depict and then place Mary and Joseph in, bringing to all hope of a Savior and King? Sometimes hope comes from sources that at first glance seem doubtful, like an ordinary couple needing shelter. Who would have guessed that their son will one day bring justice to the world and end the suffering of mankind everywhere. May I not be tempted to become hopeless but trust God for the fulfillment of a greater picture than I can now see or comprehend.
For unto us a child is born,
To us a Son is given.
And the government shall be upon his shoulders.
And his name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
There will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
Establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
From that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
Will accomplish this.
For more information about this painting, please refer to Google Arts & Culture