Nowadays, the Christmas season is marked largely by shopping days. It starts officially on Black Friday and counts down until the official Day After Christmas Sale. There is little understanding and practice–even in some faith traditions of the modern church—of the worship season known as Advent. But the Advent season is a rich and meaningful aspect of worship and the arts, and has been through the history of the Christian church.
Advent means “coming” or “arrival,” and is traditionally the first season of the Christian calendar. It comprises the four Sundays preceding Christmas, where we purposely set aside the busyness of the season to celebrate the coming and arrival of the birth of Jesus our Lord. Historically, worship—including the liturgy and the artistic elements of the service, from Advent wreath to tapestries to artwork to music—are centered around this anticipation of the birth. Even the colors of Advent—purple, blue, and white, not the Santatized red and green—signify royalty and purity, the coming of the Lamb of God. So the arts historically play a large role in helping people to prepare for and enter into worship of the coming King.
But there may be a deeper, more foundational reason why Advent should be important to the Artist of Faith.
Advent is a celebration of the incarnation. It is perhaps the greatest of Christian mysteries, that the Creator God would voluntarily and willfully become Man. The Infinite would clothe Himself in the finite. God would love us to such a degree that He would become one of us, God with Us, Emmanuel.
And here is the thing we miss sometimes. Jesus’ triumph over sin did not begin with His death. It began in His incarnation. The victory over death that Jesus offers to us was just as present in the manger as it is on the cross.
Art is incarnational by nature. Art is the incarnation of concepts and ideas and emotions onto a canvas or a page or a stage or a screen. The act of art is to take these ideas and flesh them out in our artistic mediums—the visual arts, the literary arts, dance and movement, cinema and videography, music, theater. In the same way, our Artist God takes His love for us and fleshes it out by entering into the universe by becoming human. Jesus, “through Him all things were made,” becomes man.
Here is my point. The birth of Jesus may have been the most artistic action in all creation. Creator indwells His creation. The Artist God indwells His own art by becoming a baby. Really, this should strike astonishment and dumbfoundedness in each of us every time we think of it.
My encouragement to all artists of faith is to see every creative act you do during this Advent season as a breathtaking remembrance of God’s loving incarnation to us. This Advent, may all our art be worship.
[Artist Credit: The artwork above, “Redemption’s Reach,” was created by Keith Elliott.]