I am alone in a wintry wood.

The air is cold, but slightly foggy, making distant hills obscure.  But close-by, everything stands out in crisp detail.  In the jumble of bushes that line the trail, each thin branch is outlined in hoarfrost.

It’s like this familiar forest has been reimagined, presented in a high-contrast, crystalized display to give me new eyes for seeing it.  For noticing elements that previously would have been lost in the bigger picture.

We have a big picture about the nativity as well.  Isaiah has been helping me see new aspects of the King who came to earth.

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  Isaiah 53:1-2

As an artist and a communicator, I have empathy for what painters and preachers over the centuries have had to wrestle with regarding the birth of Jesus.  On one hand, this is the arrival of the Son of God, heralded by angels.  On the other hand, he comes into the most rudimentary of settings.  How do we balance the two?

Some artists have exaggerated the physical appearance of the baby.  Here he radiates light onto the faces of his visitors.  But Isaiah reminds us that, even in his infancy, there was nothing about his looks that made him extraordinary.

It seems that tradition has exaggerated the humble nature of the setting.  In his book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth E. Bailey (who lived and taught for 40 years in the Middle East) makes what I believe is a convincing argument that Jesus was not born in a barn, or a cave, but a house.  And Mary and Joseph were not likely alone but attended by relatives.

To keep this short, I’ve illustrated his main points.  (Read it if you’re curious.)

Whether you buy this or don’t, here’s my point.  On the surface, Jesus was unremarkable.  As a baby, or a boy running around his father’s workshop, or as an adult walking with his disciples, no one would have pointed to him and said, “Now that is what I call a Savior!”

Isaiah gives us the reason: to each person, Jesus must be revealed.  He is the arm of the Lord – the power of God in action – but we can’t see that until the Spirit opens our eyes to it.

So, I will add one last element to my nativity collection.  I want new vision into this amazing person, Jesus of Nazareth.  He is a study in high contrast: humble yet holy, unremarkable to view but indwelt with the fullness of God (Col. 1:19).  It is too easy to walk by him in our assumptions and familiarity and not really notice him.

I want new eyes to see Jesus.

Lord, reveal yourself to us in new, powerful ways.  As we celebrate your birth, keep our eyes fixed on you.  Continue to break through all the barriers we have constructed that keep you at a distance.  We want to truly see you!

Reader: This is my last post of the year.  I wish you a safe, secure, Savior-filled holiday season.  Thank you for reading my thoughts.  And as always, feel free to reach out to me with yours.  I love to hear from you!

Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it.

Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.