Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!
May they fear you while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth!
In his days may the righteous flourish,
and peace abound, till the moon be no more!
In what seems like a lifetime ago, I was in graduate school studying Northern European medieval art and architecture. Professor Morganstern, or “Mrs. M,” as her grad students called her, was a very proper art historian who intimidated me with her scholarly decorum, soaring intellect, and impossibly high expectations. But, she also sparked my imagination with her lyrical descriptions of Christian Romanesque and Gothic art.
While I had read (and reread) the Bible as a young parochial-school student (thank you, nuns), I had never seen Scripture come to life as beautifully as in the cathedrals that Mrs. M taught. Using an old-school slide carousel, she projected images of architectural elements that wove a seamless visual connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament. A true art history nerd, I fell head over heels for the stained glass of Chartres Cathedral.
Created in the 12th and 13th centuries, Chartres’ stained-glass windows were not just decoration. They were teaching devices, designed to inspire and educate the masses of medieval church-goers who were, for the most part, unable to read. Instead of using words, stained glass artists used illustrations to instruct visitors about the foundations of their Christian faith. As sunlight streamed in and animated the Biblical images, the windows were, in more than one way, “illuminating.”At Chartres, one of the loveliest stained glass “lessons” is the Tree of Jesse window, depicting the fulfillment of the promise made by Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” It’s easy to imagine travel-weary pilgrims standing mesmerized before the window, immersed in the iconography of Jesus’ lineage. Within this window, against the famous “Chartres blue” background, is a portrayal of King Solomon, son of David:
Today’s psalm, Psalm 72, is called the “Psalm of Solomon.” It is a prayer for leadership that resonates deeply. The language of this psalm is familiar in a 21st-century way — righteousness, justice, deliverance, crushing the oppressor, the cause of the poor, and the children of the needy. These same concerns — these very same words, even — are invoked today as we debate the responsibilities of our leaders.
As I reflect on this psalm, I think back to the Tree of Jesse window, and think about the countless eyes that have found inspiration in Chartres’ vivid version of Jesus’ family tree. Generation after generation, children of God have been awed by this masterpiece. The unchanging nature of the human experience is amazing… yet frustrating, too. Generation after generation — in fact, as far back as we can go in our Christian genealogy — children of God have also been riddled with the same concerns and moved to speak the same prayers for their leaders. Sometimes, this feels discouraging. How is it that we still have not yet solved the problems of this broken world? Other times, it feels comforting. We are not alone. With God, we have the courage and the wisdom to lead through age-old challenges.
Let this Advent be a reminder that God’s Light always comes, an enduring sun for humankind. It comes into our lives like the morning sun streaming through the stained glass at Chartres, casting out the darkness and bringing a sense of awe and understanding.
Jennifer Fellinger is vice president for co-curricular programming and student formation at Hope College.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.