Pilate was a waffling dupe. Judas was a tortured soul who didn’t have the courage to repent. But perhaps no villain in Christian legend comes out as completely and utterly villainous as Nero. He isn’t just a sinner who made the wrong choice: in much of Christian legend, and even theology, he is literally the Antichrist.
Many people feel it’s impossible, even pointless, to try to understand the Trinity. They feel it’s either an unsolvable puzzle, like a square circle, or an abstraction up in the clouds somewhere. For others, it’s an article of faith, and that’s enough for them. “It’s a mystery,” they shrug, and turn back to the football game.
Domenico Ghirlandaio, one of the great Renaissance artists, painted this masterpiece for the Sassetti Chapel in the Basilica of Santa Trinità in Florence. Later the young Michelangelo became his apprentice. Ghirlandaio’s painting was probably inspired by the Flemish artist Hugo van der Goes’ Portinari Altarpiece in its attention to detail and its realist handling of the three shepherds on the right, the one with brown hair being the artist’s self-portrait.
For most readers of the Bible, reading a genealogy is about as exciting as reading a telephone book. Yet this is exactly how the entire New Testament begins in chapter one of Saint Matthew’s Gospel:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah . . . (Matt 1:1–3).
In Advent, thoughts naturally turn to the birth of little baby Jesus and his Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. And yet, the lectionary readings for the first and second weeks of Advent feature quite a few stories about John the Baptist, either with John himself as the protagonist or with Jesus discussing John and his significance.
Do you remember Christmas when you were a child? I recall the excitement that the approach of the holiday created in me. During the month of December, Christmas was never far from my thoughts. What gifts would I receive? With little resources, what present could I give to my mom and dad? Of course, the closer to December 25, the more my excitement intensified.