Winter Landscape, 1811, Caspar David Friedrich
Our celebration of Christmas is heavily Germanic in origin, marrying the gift-giving and merrymaking of Saturnalia with Yule logs, Christmas trees, greenery, mistletoe and other northern European traditions.
Fir Trees in the Snow, 1828, Caspar David Friedrich
Caspar David Friedrich seems like a fitting painter for today. Born in the last years of the Enlightenment, he was a profound romantic, a German landscape painter who saw allegory and symbolism in everything. He was anti-classical and moody—in short the polar opposite of the Age of Reason. Yet if you look at his superb drafting and paint handling, you see that he was a technician of great skill.
Passage Grave in the Snow, 1808, Caspar David Friedrich
A strict adherence to rationalism shortchanges the human capacity for thought. We have blinding intuition, we have emotional response, and we have gut reactions. To deny any of these processes is crippling. A strictly linear thinker can’t make the leaps of creativity necessary to be inventive. A strictly intuitive thinker hasn’t got enough grounding in reality to be productive. A strictly emotional thinker is, often, just plain crazy.
Christmas itself commemorates something profoundly non-rational: the idea that God would come down to share our suffering, and lift the price of sin from our shoulders.
Early Snow, undated, Caspar David Friedrich
But critics of Christianity make a mistake in thinking that it is anti-rational. From the initial question of whether the universe had a cause, to the faith’s remarkable endurance, to the stunning internal logic within its books, the Bible is a complex and coherent document. I’ve just been reading the Books of Chronicles. On the one hand, they are the historical record of a series of kings. On the other hand, they set the stage for a great restoration that augurs the concept of grace. There are too many examples of this to even list. If the Bible was the work of obscure sheep-wranglers from a two-bit kingdom in the Middle East, as its critics say, it represents a literary accomplishment with no parallel in history.
Trees in the Snow, 1828, Caspar David Friedrich
Five people can read the Bible, and one of them will be struck dumb by it, and the other four will think, well, they can cross that off their list. For that one person, the Word becomes the organizing principle of his life, and he admits a relationship to the Living God that will change him forever.
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