Let me introduce you to one of my favourite Christmas paintings. It’s called the Census at Bethlehem. The artist was Pieter Bruegel, and he painted this picture in 1566.
It shows a rather ordinary village in the part of Holland in which Bruegel lived. It’s obviously winter time; don’t forget that in Holland, Christmas is in winter.
Even though this is an ordinary village scene, Bruegel has given it an extraordinary meaning by naming it Census at Bethlehem. We are invited to imagine this village as Bethlehem.
Can you see Mary and Joseph? It’s a bit like a Where’s Wally? picture. They are arriving, soon the Saviour of the world will be born, yet the villagers are taking no notice. It’s all happening very quietly.
That’s the way God tends to work—quietly, in a whisper.
I wonder what the news would be the next day in Bethlehem?
‘Did you hear a mob of shepherds came into town last night?’
‘Oh, I don’t like shepherds, they’d pick your pocket as soon as look at you.’
Or someone might say,
‘There was a bright light in the sky. I wonder if it was angels?’
(Today, of course, we’d think it was a UFO.)
And there might be a rumour that some wise men had been spotted travelling.
‘I hope they don’t come here, those wise men never wash. They smell funny!’
But there’d be no news about a baby born in a spare room, who was laid in some straw in a feed box. That wouldn’t rate. It’s too ordinary.
God works quietly, in the ordinary things of life. The decisions we make, the people we like or don’t like, the opportunities we have to do good, or fail to do good… God is at work, nudging us towards the good and the true. Often, we don’t even notice.
It’s like Bruegel’s painting. God slips in unnoticed, and we go about our business unaware of what has just happened. Our attention is taken by other things, and God is left to try again next time.
And God does try again. Christmas shows us that God desires to be one with us, and will do whatever it takes.
So don’t wait for something spectacular to happen to prove God is real. Look for him in the everyday things of life. God is there.