Giotto

Christmas 2014

Giotto’s (1266-1337) Adoration of the Magi, located in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, provides a visual commentary on what Jesus meant when He taught His disciples to pray, Hallowed be Thy name. Using his realistic, three-dimensional style, Giotto captures the moment when the Wise Men beheld the infant Jesus for the first time. With Matthew’s Gospel as his source material, the great Florentine artist allows us to stand near enough to gain a glimpse of this sacred moment in human history.

Right before their eyes was the promised and long-awaited Messiah. Having followed His star from the east, they immediately recognized Jesus as the object of their search and fell on their knees before Him. Giving in to their emotions and to what they knew to be true by divine revelation, they prostrated themselves and entered into sincere, reverential worship. They understood that they were in the presence of the God of the universe.

The relationship between Giotto’s Adoration of the Magi and Jesus’ Hallowed be Thy name offers a beautiful picture of the gospel of grace. Commenting on the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer – Hallowed be Thy name – Martin Luther acknowledged, “I know of no teaching in all the Scriptures that so mightily diminishes and destroys our life as does this petition.” German theologian Helmut Thielicke notes that in order “to substantiate this statement, he (Luther) goes on to say that we all live a life in which God’s name and honor are constantly maligned; we have other gods, and want to be masters of our own lives.”

The gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh – acknowledged in Matthew’s text and Giotto’s fresco – are symbolically placed before us so that we can embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ in all of its transforming power. Gold was presented because He is King Jesus, frankincense because He is the sinless, divine High Priest who is truly God, and myrrh because He is the spotless Lamb who willingly gave His life in order to forgive us for our sins and give us the free gift of eternal life.

Hallowed be Thy name, therefore, rather than being a petition that terrifies our hearts because of our abject failure to do so, becomes our song of praise. By coming to our King in humble repentance and faith in His finished work on the cross, we are enabled to call God our Father and to acknowledge that our debt (sin) has been paid in full by our Redeemer and Friend.

Matthew tells us that when the Magi saw the star standing over where the Child was, “they rejoiced exceedingly, with great joy” – a common response from those who have come to Bethlehem and found the incarnate Son of God lying in a manger.


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