December 25: Salvador Mundi (Christmas B)

“For a child is born to us, a son is given; upon whom his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, the Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:1-6.

A few weeks ago, at Christie’s Auction House in New York City, a painting sold for the record price of 450 million dollars. It was the most substantial sum ever paid for an artwork. Called “Salvator Mundi,” the Savior of the World.

Years before, in 1958, the very same painting was salvaged for a price of 60 dollars. Until art historians and conservators, equipped with modern scientific techniques, recognized it as an authentic Leonardo DaVinci and known to be one of only 16 paintings by the Renaissance master.

Why did it take so long for the painting’s true identity to reveal itself? Was it the examination of the under-surface and the depiction of the hand? Or the gleam of the crystal orb held by the Savior? Was it the fold of the hair?

As one art historian asks: “Was it perhaps the overestimation of the artist himself? Too often, we look for perfection; instead, in this case, we needed to look for signs of brilliance.”

If somehow you or I were transported back in time to the city of David, the little town of Bethlehem, and go to that out of the way manger or barnyard — where a child in swaddling clothes, was held by his mother and protected by Joseph, what would we see or hear?

What evidence would we examine?

Might we too look for signs of perfection?

Or, in the case of the discovery of a precious masterpiece — instead, gaze at the brilliance of the stars in the heavens, speak to those shepherds attending their flock. Listen to an angel proclaiming great joy: “Glory to God in the highest and peace.”

Too often, does our religious faith depend on perfection? Or rather, do we take notice day by day of the brilliance of a God who reveals himself in the birth of every child?

And whose Savior was Jesus — born centuries ago in a town called Bethlehem.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

Listen to John Rutter’s “Nativity Carol,” performed by the Kings Choir Cambridge.


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