Japanese artist Soichi Watanabe uses simple geometric shapes and faceless figures in his work to invite viewers to see themselves in the story he is painting and to recognize Jesus Christ in the faces of other people. His paintings reflect his response to God’s work in his own life.
In the art for this issue, Watanabe invites each of us into a room filled with an unusual assortment of people — kings, shepherds, a family — and even animals. As viewers, we too are in the room — witnesses to the great event that occurred in Bethlehem long ago. Watanabe pulls our focus toward the bottom center of the painting. There we are greeted with the warm, golden glow of the infant Jesus lying in the manger. Isn’t it amazing how quickly a baby can capture our attention and our hearts? But of course, this was no ordinary baby.
As our view widens, we see Mary on the left reaching into the manger to hold her child — the child who will become the Savior of his people and whose name is Emmanuel. (See Matt. 1:18-23.) Above them the kings — with crowned heads — bow and lean forward to see Jesus. Across from the kings, Joseph and the shepherds lean in and peer into the manger. Even the sheep and the cow gaze at Mary and her child. From the manger, a wide beam of light emanates from the infant Jesus, illuminating the faces of those gathered around him. This light — the light Christ brought to the world — continues to shine today.
The invitation to each of us this Advent and Christmas is to shine the light of Christ in such a way that everyone we encounter can’t help but lean in for a closer look.
Cover photo courtesy of the artist. © 2001 Soichi Watanabe and OMSC, New Haven, CT. Prints of cover art are not available from Upper Room Ministries®.