Friday, 16. December 2022

When God Comes Very Close to People

Thoughts on the Christmas card by the Chinese artist He Qi

What does this Baby Jesus look like? And what about the figures with the green faces - are they supposed to be shepherds? This Christmas card by the Chinese artist He Qi is certainly unusual. Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds all have Asian features and even the sheep and the bull in the stable look different from what we are normally used to. But if you look at this picture a little longer, you realise that everything is actually in its usual place. Mary holds the Christ child in her arms, Joseph lights the scene with his lantern, the angel announces great joy to the shepherds and, as in the Middle Ages, Jesus holds the orb in his hand as a sign of his authority.

Jesus Christ “who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness.” These words are in the Christ hymn that sings about God taking on human form (Phil 2:6-7). On Christmas cards that we are familiar with, the people in Bethlehem look like us Central Europeans. When the Bible says that God became like us, then it is obvious that he should be portrayed like us. He Qi does the same for his Chinese sisters and brothers: God becomes like us ...

The Chinese artist He Qi was banished to a labour camp during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. During this time, he found in a magazine the painting of the Madonna and Child by the Italian artist Raphael and was so moved by it that he began to secretly repaint it at night. He mixes traditional European painting with Chinese folk art. He wants to bring Christ very close to the people who live around him.

"We are living in a time where there is much violence. There is little peace. We need to listen to the voice of heaven," writes He Qi. I find this peace in the incredible blue that the angel brings with him from heaven and surrounding the people and animals in the stable. The star of Bethlehem and Joseph's lantern spread a warm light. Peace and comfort unite Mary and the child.

God becomes man and spreads a heavenly peace in this troubled world. Oh, if only he would do that again this year! If only he would create peace in this world torn with strife. I look up longingly to heaven with the shepherds and yearn for the message of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!” May God come very close to you all this Christmas!

Dr. Dieter Heidtmann
EMS General Secretary