Wishing all Q readers a very


In celebration of this astonishing commonplace, here is a combination that evokes the shocking naturalism of the Incarnation.


Georges de la Tour was a brilliant painter of chiaroscuro (literally Italian for light-dark) in seventeenth century France, often using candlelight to illuminate his subjects. He was very influenced by Caravaggio in his ability to capture moments of high drama with a naturalism and immediacy decades ahead of its time. His casts pulse with genuine vitality, and the viewer is drawn into the moment almost as a participant.

But to my mind, so many aspects of his genius converge in this wonderful Christmas scene, the Adoration of the Shepherds. A candle does light the scene, bringing the Christ-child into focus very naturally (in contrast to medieval and later painters who seemed to make him a light-source in his own right). But there’s more. Because chiaroscuro seems theologically, as well as artistically, apt for an image of the incarnation. After all:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. (John 1:5, 9-10)

So I needed to find some verse that achieved something similar – and I couldn’t believe my good fortune in finding this one by Denise Levertov. I knew nothing about her – but her story is fascinating. Born in Britain to a Welsh mother and Russian Hasidic Jewish father who had converted to Christ and then been ordained an Anglican minister, she was acutely aware of her astonishing religious heritage. Much of her life seems to have been engaged in political as well as spiritual exploration. Having married, she and her new husband moved to the USA where she spent the rest of her life.

I love the immediacy and honesty of this poem. The world’s darkness is unflinchingly personal here. But still God did it.

But at that moment on that first night on earth, the baby in the cowshed sleeps… at peace, and momentarily oblivious of the darkness that did not recognise him. But one day many would, brought from darkness into light, astonished by the privilege of finding we had such a brother all along.

Praying for every blessing for readers this Christmas.


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