When a rediscovered portrait of Christ was recently sold for more than $450 million dollars, the art world gasped, since it was more than half again as much as any of the masters’ works of art were ever known to have drawn. The portrait, Salvator Mundi (Savior of the world),had been making the rounds of European royal courts for centuries before it surfaced in 1958 and sold for about $125 (in today’s money) as being from the “School of da Vinci.” When a group of experts in the field took a closer look and campaigned its re-authentication, eventually their work was validated by museums and Leonardo da Vinci scholars as being a genuine work done by the master’s hand.
While some speculated on Salvator Mundi as an investment, financial analysts called it an “emotional asset,” one of the highest psychic returns any investor could ever have. Hopefully, the new owner will realize a long lasting “high” from his latest purchase. But as with most things we buy for that purpose, the high fizzles pretty quickly.
While acquiring that kind of art has never been a possibility for me, it seems the irony of such a purchase is that it is a poor substitute for the real thing. The symbolism represented by a 500-year-old portrait of Christ holding a crystal orb is certainly inspiring, but eternal truths, like Christ’s sovereign reign over the world are hard to grasp unless those truths become a reality in our lives.
As we celebrate Emmanuel (God with us) this season, its symbolism and traditions serve to remind us that our living God came as a babe in real time and space to redeem us as His very own children, to recover the beauty for which the Master created us, to live in us, among us, and to do His work through us.
The most marvelous thing about Christmas is that this priceless gift—a relationship with the living God of the Universe is free—paid for by the precious blood of Jesus. Paul wrote: “If because of one man’s (Adam’s) trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17) By faith we are adopted into His royal family and reign in this life, not bound by our circumstances or the traditions of man, but empowered by His life-giving Spirit.
When our family decided to forgo the traditional hunt for the perfect fresh tree and settled instead for a pre-lighted fake tree, it’s as if some of the authenticity of Christmas had been lost. But in retrospect, while family Christmas traditions draw us together, some of what we do is fake or at best, a distraction—a poor substitute for the real thing—a living, growing relationship with our God who has showered upon us an inexpressible gift. This Christmas, my prayer is that we will not settle for the fakes or the substitutes, but that we will earnestly seek the Giver who promises life, joy, peace, purpose, and enduring love.
How will you separate the real from the fake this Christmas?