There’s a painting technique I like to use where you start with a painted black canvass. When you have a black background, colors and especially whites become Bethlehem Starvivid. They pop out of the artwork. If a pale yellow is applied to an already white canvass, it blends in or seems muted. However, if you apply a pale yellow to a black canvass, it casts a bright glow in contrast against the dark background.

“A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light.” Leonardo Da Vinci

The darker the background, the brighter the light.

It was a dark time. The prophets had stopped prophesying, and for four hundred years between the Old and New Testaments, God seemed to have fallen silent. The Roman Empire with their idols and multiple gods dominated the region, and the despotic King Herod ruled over Judea.

Yet in this dark time, light entered the world.

She became pregnant as a virgin. God had visited Mary and told her not to be afraid, but already the whispers about her condition had begun. Her family hung their heads, and neighbors moved to the other side of the street when she passed. Joseph, her husband, had even planned to divorce her in secret if God hadn’t sent an angel to him in a dream.

Dry dust caked her dress and face as they traversed the hot, overcrowded roads. She longed to stretch her aching limbs. Her backside throbbed from the jolting sway of the donkey, but she kept her complaints to herself, for she didn’t want to appear ungrateful. She fared far better on the beast than if she would have trudged the long miles to Bethlehem, her back arched to off-set her well-rounded belly. Another spasm cramped her abdomen. Her fingers clenched the donkey’s mane, not only to combat the pain, but to ensure she didn’t pass out and fall off its back. She pinched her lips to not cry out for her Mama. The ill-timed census drew her away from her family when she needed their wisdom the most. Joseph was the only familiar face, and even though their families had been longtime friends, she knew little of her new husband.

Joseph returned from speaking to another innkeeper and took the reins. She searched his face hoping for a positive answer, but his eyes mirrored the same concerns and doubts plaguing her heart. He shook his head and her hopes plummeted like a bucket down a deep well.  He turned the donkey in another direction as another birthing pain wracked her body. The intervals were becoming more frequent, and when she thought the searing pain couldn’t get much worse it grew in intensity. She fought against tears congealing in the traveling dust within her throat.

God has a plan. He wouldn’t allow this to happen to His son.

Or, had she misunderstood?

Joseph stops to speak to another innkeeper on the outskirts of town. A rumpled elderly man points to a barn and another contraction seizes her body. Mary muffles her scream into a whimpering moan. Joseph’s eyes lock on hers. Lines of worry crease his forehead. He nods to the innkeeper and presses a coin into the man’s gnarled hands.

Joseph helps her down off the donkey’s back. Her legs wobble, and Mary leans heavily on him as he guides her into the barn and settles her into the hay. Curious animals stomp their hooves and turn their heads in her direction. The manger is filled with their earthy smells and bleating noises. Her grip on Joseph’s hand tightens as the pain overwhelms her. Why would God allow His son to be born in a lowly manger? The inns were full. There was no other place to go. Stifling fear smothered her, stealing her breath which rushed across her lips in quick pants. Had they failed God?

His light shines brightest in the darkness.

Mary and Baby JesusExhausted and spent, Mary cradles the precious baby in her arms. The pains of birth are forgotten as love fills her. Tears of joy slide over her cheeks. She arranges the swaddled cloth around his sweet face. The hope of the world… so small… so tiny… so perfect.

“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5

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