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Creating Light From Dark: An Advent Reflection

800px-Caravaggio-Nativity(1600)
Dave Hills

Dave Hills

President, Leadership Foundations

As much as Leadership Foundations is an Easter organization, it is also one that seeks to embody Advent. Yes, to the death and resurrection. Equally yes to the Mother and child. This is because there is a telling of the Christmas story that tastes and feels a lot like the cities in which we work. I would like to explain by way of a groundbreaking painter.

Caravaggio turned the art world upside down with a never before seen technique in his paintings: creating light because of dark. Through brush strokes of black, brown, and midnight blue, Caravaggio formed light and painting was never the same. Like Caravaggio, Matthew and Luke use dark “brushstrokes” to reveal light through the story of Jesus, and the world has never been the same since.

Advent Brushstrokes

The genealogy of Matthew provides our first brushstroke- a litany of names with four women appearing among 42 men. In a world where everything depended upon paternity and purity of family tree, the scandal of four women who were non-Jewish with considerable baggage appearing in this list of Jesus’s lineage cannot be overstated. The light emanating through this brush stroke is not only a reminder that Jesus shed his blood for us; but a reminder that the kind of blood Jesus died with connects us all. 

The historical and cultural relevancy of Jesus’s birth is the next brushstroke. Jesus was an Asian born baby who became an African refugee. This context ties Jesus to a  significant 21st Century reality- today over 50% of the world’s refugees are children, many from Asia and Africa, displaced and without a safe place to lie their heads. 

Herod’s slaughtering of the innocents reveals our final brushstroke. Before Jesus could die for us—a village full of babies died for him. Why? Because of a maniacal, tyrannical, psychopath desperately afraid of losing power. This dark brushstroke—perhaps the darkest of all—brings to light that amidst the massive suffering our world experiences, there is a suffering that can be redemptive, propelling us into difficult places on behalf of others.

These three Caravaggio-like swaths of dark paint brood over the Matthean and Lukan versions of the Christmas story and the cities where LF works. And yet, from these brushstrokes emerge real points of light, healing and hope often in ways more glorious than we could ever imagine, hope, and dream.

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Celia Vigil

Communications Fellow

What book, movie, quote, or tv show has most shaped your understanding of leadership or the city?   

A quote that has shaped my understanding of leadership and the city is, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

While the amount of work there is to do to transform cities is great, this quote reminds me that we are freed from having to complete it all, though our obligation to continue remains. We may never see a huge transformation in our lifetime. The work stretches far beyond us. However, this does not make our acts of faithfulness in the day to day less significant, no matter how small they may seem.