I’ve been meditating on a line of Dante for six months:
"The glory of the One who moves all things permeates the universe and glows.”
It is a beautiful and lonely feeling to stand in wonder before such things. As a counselor, pastor, and writer, I feel I have caught the edge of artists’ struggles and joys. Part of my calling is to encourage and sustain artists whenever I can.
Why? Because I believe:
Artists are in a unique place to reach people in this dark world.
“The people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
These verses from the gospel of Matthew quoting the prophet Isaiah give artists three words and three encouragements this Advent Season:
The light Isaiah prophesizes about is Jesus, the Messiah, given to people dwelling in darkness. Jesus uses this language of light about himself throughout the gospels. It has double meaning. Not only do people now see Jesus, but also see other things better because of his light.
Carolina jasmine grows around our front door. Tangled in those vines are white lights I put up one Christmas and left there. Often I sit outside in the evenings and enjoy the beauty of those lights. But I also see our yard better because of those lights. Those lights, beautiful in themselves, help me see everything around them better.
How are we to understand this darkness Jesus came into? This is an important question because we are nowliving in what is a dark time for many people. John, in his gospel, is very helpful with this.
“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world,
and people loved the darkness rather than the light
because their works were evil.”
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying,
“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”
“I have come into the world as light,
so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”
The Jews inJesus’s day expected the Messiah to overthrow Rome and rescue them from their oppressors. Instead Jesus rescued them from themselves. They saw only the evil outside themselves and did not see the evil inside them. Jesus entered into a world where both these evils—both kinds of darkness—were at play.
Both internal and external evil are a willful denial of reality.
“Sin” often has connotations of only moral behavior –– a list of prohibitions. But sin is more about being out of sync with God. Since God is the highest of all realities, then it makes sense evil would a denial of reality.
Far more than only a focus on behavior, repentance is about changing your way of thinking.
Another way to read “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” is, “Change your way of thinking! Be confident in the good news that God’s reign and rule is now here at hand.”
And it’s “at hand” because Jesus has come among them as a man.
So think about what Jesus is saying to a people mired in the darkness then and now:
“Because the light has come into the darkness, change your way of thinking and live according to God’s reign and rule. Change your way of thinking about the Messiah. Change your way of thinking about what you need to be saved from. Change your way of thinking about what is real reality.”
Now what does all this have to do with artists?
“Artists, as representatives of the light in a world of darkness, are in a unique position to help people change the way they look at everything."
1. Artists are in a unique position in our culture.
All Christians are to be representatives of the light of Christ. But artists are in the unique position to reflect that light in a way that people will see and receive and feel. This is not to suggest that artists should “sermonize” with their art. But like Emily Dickinson, artists are in a unique position to “tell the truth but tell it slant.”
2. Artists help us see reality.
Artists help us see reality better. Not only in the seen things like creation, but also the unseen things, which Eugene Peterson says are the highest realities. People rarely listen to pastors when they say that their 401K is not a higher reality to be depended on than the provision of the King as we live in his kingdom. But people can hear, see, smell, feel, and get a taste of that higher reality in the way artists give it.
3. Artists help us have vision.
Artists can not only help us see the seen and unseen realities better but they can also help us see a way forward…
in the midst of a pandemic
in the midst of violence
in the midst of national rage
in the midst of darkness and lies
Those who create worlds out words and sound and color have the tools to cast a vision for “on earth as it is in heaven,” which really is what Advent is about.
Artists help us meditate on the coming of Christ as a baby into a dark world.
Artists are in a unique place to help us connect to our deepest longing for what is done in heaven to be done here on earth.
In this Advent season, I pray you as artists will be encouraged to continue to change the way the rest of us look at everything.
Matt Redmond (M. Div., BCPC) has pastored youth, college students, singles, and adults for almost twenty years; counseling all along the way. He is author of The God of the Mundane. He writes regularly for He Reads Truth and blogs at mattbredmond.com. He has been married to Bethany for over 21 years and has three children. He collects vinyl records and never feels like he has enough books.