In Leonardo’s depiction of the star-guided Magi’s visit to see the Babe born in a manger, there are penciled outlines that can still be seen where the renowned artist’s brush strokes of paint were never applied. It has a characteristic of being lifeless as little color adorns this painting. Yet, where paint was applied to the three kings, its perspective of these three dark, shadowy figures who curiously know, yet probably do not fully understand this baby’s purpose, is illustrated as they touchingly, yet whimsically, present their gifts to the King.
DaVinci’s portrayal of that moment may be emblematic of today as, still now, it seems but few understand why this Baby was born. That is, His life’s purpose which was, simply, to die, thus paying the penalty of sin for everyone, so we might be saved. In doing so, the Father’s love was magnified and His name glorified through Jesus.
These three enigmas from foreign lands endured a lengthy journey. We don’t know their earthly origin or even their names. But we know they returned home with their hearts gratified that the journey was well worth the opportunity to see the prophesied King. While it’s possible they didn’t know He was their Savior, they at least knew the timing of His birth, and it is my hope that their investment in time and means to visit the King of Kings was a transformational experience that will end for each of them in glory. Their searching of Scripture still defies understanding because, although His people, at least the intelligentsia of the day, should have known what the three kings knew regarding the birth of the new King, it appears they were too busy with life to anticipate His appearing.
Birth and death are the starkest contrasts that we experience while here. The Bible says, Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints (Ps. 116:15). We, too, in a way because of sin, are born to die. Yet when we die in Christ, just like Jesus, death has every bit as much purpose as life. Our legacy lives on as others copy our patterns both good and bad. And when loss occurs, although intensely painful, those who are left behind move on in spite of pain to continue the pursuit of a divinely appointed purpose in life.
Many of us have lost loved ones during the pandemic, from other illnesses, or in past years during the holiday season. As we lived with them and loved them, our sojourn, like the three kings, has been lengthy, too. And after so long a journey, it’s hard letting go. We have suffered multiple painful losses in our office this year. For many, this year maybe more than any other, the holiday season may seem to be anything but something worth celebrating.
Many years ago, I lost my father a few days before Thanksgiving. Although painful, I also was thankful for how hard he worked during my entire life to provide for me. If you are struggling with loneliness due to loss of loved one or a sense of overwhelming isolation because of the pandemic, Psalms 34:18 says, The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.
God is with you in your sorrow is what the first part of this verse states. But it also says it requires a humble heart in seasons like these to realize we need help from God for our sorrows, and some situations may necessitate getting help from our fellow man.
If you are battling depression, please reach out for help! Get a Christian counselor who shares your world-view. If you are mourning loss, please join a Christian grief recovery group, especially to help you through the holidays.
There’s another unfinished painting I’d like to tell you about. Not long after Davinci’s unfinished piece, it is generally accepted that the Italian Renaissance master, Michelangelo, left another canvass uncompleted; his masterpiece also was of Jesus. However, this time the painting was not of Jesus’ birth, but rather of His death. Isn’t it interesting that two great artists — one painting about the beginning of the life of Jesus, and the other, the end, both failed to complete their works of art?
Yes, no longer a Baby King, Michelangelo painted Jesus’ lifeless body being carried to the tomb. But whole parts of the canvass have no paint applied by the master artist. Is it possible that it was providential because, even after rising from that tomb, Jesus’ work for us remains uncompleted? Although He said, “It is finished,” this statement simply meant the plan of salvation was completed for all to be saved. Now that the investigative judgement has begun, salvation is being applied, name by name and person by person, as everyone's destiny is then forever decided. Yet even then, we are still not finished until the time when Jesus returns and mortal puts on immortality. Yes, even now in the Heavenly Sanctuary, He is completing the plan of salvation in your life and mine.
We, too, have an unfinished business to perform — to keep a missional heart in a time when men’s hearts are waxing cold; to care for others who could care less about us. DaVinci and Michelangelo’s works will never be finished for they are dead and gone. But, as long as we are alive, ours carries on.
Ours is to share, like the angels at His birth and the disciples after His ascension, that there’s no manger or tomb where He can be found. No earthly pilgrimage to undertake or ascetic life to be lived to purge ourselves of sin because Jesus lives! He is in the Heavenly Sanctuary! And because of His ministry, when we pray, the sound of whoosh can be heard again and again as our prayers arrive there and are mingled with the sweet incense of the perfect life that He lived.
Therefore, from the throne room, the Father dispatches angels with a simple command to save us from our lost state, the same as He dispatched the angels to announce Jesus’ birth. Again and again, the gates of Heaven swing as angelic forces wing their way through celestial realms to come see to our needs. When life is over, they mark our resting place because, one day, the unfinished business of salvation will be complete when together, we, through Christ, make Heaven our home. If you have suffered loss, I pray that you found the journey with your loved one well worth it for to have loved and then suffered loss is better than to not have loved at all.
As this year concludes, please do continue to read the 2020 Lake Union Conference President’s book of the year, The Great Controversy. Additionally, I have chosen for the New Year, the powerful book, Patriarchs and Prophets. Please join me in reading this great unparalleled work of Ellen White on how all things began and the stalwart faith of those whose courage remains inspiring and challenging to us to this very day, starting together on January 1, 2021.
Lastly, thank you for your faithfulness throughout 2020. Glory to God in the Highest…!