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A task for preachers and listeners

In my Advent reading today I came across this wonderful phrase from Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff. He wrote that the Christian’s task is to “imitate and decipher Jesus” . It is that latter word, decipher, which really caught my imagination. We tend to think of deciphering as something which is done with hidden codes or secret messages. It can apply equally, though, to finding deeper meaning in words or pictures which are already familiar.

Artistic depictions of Jesus vary enormously, from the saccharin to the offensive and everything in between. One of my favourites of all time, though, is the engraving below, by Claude Mellan.


Image: British Museum

Engraved in 1649, it bears the words “formatur unicus una” – “from one I formed the one”. Incredibly, the whole picture consists of one single line from Mellan’s engraving tool. Simply by varying the pressure on that one spiralling line he has created this startling image.

When Paul wrote to the Galatians he said that he had “clearly portrayed” Christ to them. The word he uses in Galatians 3 v.1 is “pro-egraphe” – from which we get graphite, graphics and the like.  In his preaching and teaching he had sought to set before them a Christ whom they could easily decipher.

As preachers of every hue set to the task of presenting Christ in carol services this weekend- may he be a Christ whom those listening can easily decipher.


Richard Littledale

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