He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble. Luke 1.51-52
In the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin there hangs a picture known as The Stalingrad Madonna. The picture was painted by a German doctor, Kurt Reuber on the back of a Russian map captured during the battle of Stalingrad. It depicts Mary holding the baby Jesus, their heads almost touching, and mother and child are enfolded in a great cloak. Down one side are the words light, life and love.
Reuber painted the picture in the dark days of 1942 when the German sixth army was surrounded by their Russian enemies. Morale was at a low ebb. Reuber took his painting around all the bunkers and remarked on the impact it seemed to have on the soldiers. He then hung the painting in his own bunker in time for his unit’s Christmas meal. Once again the presence of his painting seemed to change the whole atmosphere.
Much of the superficiality and sentimentality that has grown up around Christmas has little relevance to the real difficulties of life, never mind the harsh realities and deprivations of war. Perhaps, however, you find the true power of the Christmas story in battle, conflict and difficulty.
When you read Mary’s song, there’s little, if any, sentimentality. This child that she is carrying is a warrior. A deliverer. A ruler. He’s come into the world to make war on God’s enemies. He has come to take the battle of the ages to a whole new level. Injustice and oppression look out!
It’s worth reminding ourselves at Christmas that the baby of Bethlehem’s manger would grow into a warrior. Jesus is the ultimate freedom fighter. He’s also the one who is able to identify with those who are hard pressed in life and fighting their own battles. Hebrews exhorts us to consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men (12.3). Jesus doesn’t only know and care. He’s fighting your battles with you.
A short film has been made about The Stalingrad Madonna. This link will take you to the trailer.