The Annunciation by Henry Tanner

"The Annunciation by Henry Tanner" Continued...

Space does not permit a full description of Tanner's own religious pilgrimage. It seems he may have journeyed away from the orthodox faith of his youth. However, the content of so many of his paintings are scenes from the Bible, and he often said, "I will preach with my brush."

If The Annunciation is Tanner's form of "preaching," then what does his painting say and how does it compare with the biblical record?

First, Jesus came to the world under lowly circumstances. With a mother in such humble surroundings, it is obvious what Jesus' socio-economic status would be. The King of Creation came into the world as a baby born to a lowly mother in a small town located in a backwater section of the Roman world. This was hardly a glorious beginning, and yet this is how God chose to present His chosen one to the world.

Second, Jesus came into the world by being born of flesh, in order to redeem those born of flesh by his own substitutionary death. An angel can speak "good tidings of great joy," but an angel cannot accomplish redemption and the salvation of a soul. Tanner's Annunciation shows Mary in undeniably human terms. She is flesh and blood, and the child born from her womb would be flesh and blood.

Third, Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Tanner could not even bring himself to depict an angel, so there would certainly be no depiction of God on the canvas. Yet, we see here the young woman who would bear a child who himself would say, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father."

God is holy and unapproachable, but Jesus came as Immanuel---"God with us."

Fourth, the only acceptable response to the revelation of God and His will is humble acceptance. Tanner depicts Mary in a moment of peaceful submission to the will of God. But even in this, Mary looks normal in the sense that we too could follow God's will for our own lives even as she did.

The tension between realism and idealism finds no artistic solution in Tanner. He is simply one side of the conversation, and no matter how much I prefer Tanner's Annunciation, I must admit that the idealized depictions convey profound truth as well.

Only in the person of Jesus Christ do we find a theological solution to this artistic problem, for in Christ alone will realism (who we really are) find reconciliation with idealism (who God made us to be).

It is little wonder then that, at best, every artistic depiction of Christ is partly true and partly false. Artist beware!

John 1:14 says of Christ, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

Do you know Jesus Christ, the only Son from the Father, as your Lord and Savior? Gabriel spoke good news of peace with God and salvation through Jesus. Have you believed in this message? Christian, are you telling this good news to others?

Merry Christmas!


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