The same year that Columbus discovered America, the Italian Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca died. He left as his last work a painting of the Nativity. This masterpiece now displayed in the National Gallery in London unfolds for us with serene clarity the mystery of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The newborn Jesus is placed in an old hut, somewhat in disrepair and crowned with weeds.
For the Son of God came "to rebuild the fallen House of David from its ruins and restore it" (Acts 15: 16).
Two humble shepherds welcome the child.
"For the Lord God says this: I am going to look after my flock myself; I shall rescue them from wherever they have been scattered; I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the wounded and make the weak strong" (Ez 34: 11-16).
Angels, recognizing divinity, surround the child with song as heaven touches earth.
"For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Col 1: 19).
Joseph sits with hands folded and Mary kneels in adoration. Here is mystery:
"The appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Ti 1: 13).
The Child rests gently in the foreground — not yet wrapped in swaddling clothes — exposed and vulnerable.
For the eternal Son of God, "though His state was divine, did not cling to His equality to God, but emptied Himself and became as men are" (Phil 2: 6-7).
Born in Bethlehem, the Son of God enters time and becomes part of every human life. Into our weak, vulnerable lives, God has come. This is the reason for hope in the midst of suffering and hardship, for joy in the face of conflicts and wars.
Jesus, the Son of the Virgin Mary, the only-begotten Son of the Father, offers "to all who accept Him, the power to become the children of God" (Jn 1:12).
In the painting of Piero della Francesca, many details have been left unfinished. And we are not yet fully what Christ came to make us become.
This Christmas may we discover something more of the grace of Jesus's birth drawing all of us together as God's family in love and peace.