340. Essay: Jesus’ Birth, The Ultimate Minimalism
The move toward minimalism that has arrested the design world over the last decade or so owes the Internet a debt of gratitude. Where else can you call out dreadful design, redesign it yourself, and publish it in a matter of moments — all with an unlimited audience? We champions of web minimalism can have an accidental air of arrogance: I’m better because I’m cultured, refined, and can easily see what should be obvious to you and your blind grandma. Some are professionals now, some have schooled themselves, and others just know exquisiteness when they see it. We are well-meaning perfectionists usually lacking in some restraint when it comes to offering our help, unsolicited. Classic Asperger’s autism, what with all that social ineptness and such. But we truly do care.
It seems a trend began by decrying bad design: hating Myspace because it was the Vegas of online sites with too much blinking and hollering to be of any benefit to the sober; Microsoft and their lack of caring . . . about anything, like font rendering, bloatware, user experience, and quality and polish; excessive buttons or steps to complete a process; Adobe’s frustrating and unclear software installation process; poor instructions for assembling a new piece of furniture.
But shouting about what’s wrong doesn’t show others what’s right, so the second wave of minimalism was rooted in pointing toward the archetypes that were right, those who merged the necessary and the beautiful, the function with the form. Dieter Rams, Apple Inc., Swiss and Bauhaus design, Occam’s philosophical razor, writers Samuel Beckett and Ernest Hemingway, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the asian zen harmony, and glimpses in Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture.
From recognizing the masters came the ability to balance the equation: Less is not necessarily better, but there should only be what is necessary — and what is there should be exquisite.
Minimalists should, at the very least, recognize the genius within the birth of Jesus. It has all the hallmarks of a coulda-gone-over-the-edge event, but was the epitome of restraint.
The Christmas story says that a baby was born in Israel about 2000 years ago. So what. Babies are born all the time. Well, I guess baby is a bit of an understatement. It was God who was born. God. The only uncreated being created the world with His own power and then came to be sequestered within it; not only that, but sequestered within fragile flesh as well. That’s like covering a volcano with plastic wrap or trying to shroud the sun with tracing paper.
Biblical descriptions of heaven are nothing less than stunning, the physical as well as the intangible. We now turn to the backdrop of heavenly extravagance to set the scene in great detail.
There are layers of substance and activity long before reaching God. It starts out looking like a windstorm with lightning flashes and diffused, emanating light. This fog-like cloud is the most exterior layer and its center glows like fire. In the center are strange and captivating creatures that look like charcoal after it’s been set on fire. Flame bursts shoot between the creatures as they move around on bejeweled wheels, accompanied with flashes of lightning. Over their heads is a hovering platform that sparkles like blue crystal; imagine looking up at the blazing sun from underneath crystal blue ocean waves. Over the platform is a throne, and this is where God is, surrounded by a radiance that looks like a green rainbow on a misty day. He is categorically supreme, unparalleled in essence. Were it not for Jesus Christ, God would not even be approachable.
Turning around away from the throne will fill your view with majestic hills, rushing rivers — simultaneously crisp, refreshing, and afire — that have the power to sustain and heal, cities that house the holy, and gold-encrusted streets. Like an ocean wave when it pushes the body, color itself has weight and substance to it. It communicates on another emotional level to fill in context and connotation.
Color and sound are basically the same thing, just at different points of the spectrum, so color has a sound when it strikes the listener. This means music is always heard in heaven. There are no vocal celebrities, but an ever-rising crescendo of worship given to the only being who is worthy of adoration. Harmonies dance in unison with the pulsating instrumentation and anyone can join in at any moment, but the human voice, fortified with its free will and bursting with thankfulness, is the preeminent instrument.
And this is only the beginning of the emotional aspects of this environment. God is perfect, and because His qualities emanate from within His being, His qualities are also perfect. His love, goodness, and joy have no comparison. The brute substance and amount of the qualities rushing forth from Him would make the imperfect wizened in His presence. Power, even emotional power, must be under control or it will overwhelm, domineer, and possibly destroy, which is why His mercy and self-control are so pivotal. These emotional aspects make it seem as if heaven will be level upon level of personal connections — of true family.
Had Jesus been born into the extravagant luxury of a palace, it would have been justified. Had it been announced far and wide with fireworks and a week-long celebration, it would not have been too much. Regardless the heights, the pomp, or the superfluous expense, it would not have been enough to mark the most important birth on that day: God Himself was born.
But, no. We have none of the rightful self-promotion we would expect from someone of such status. There is no hype in Jesus’ birth.
The most we get is a group of angels who make the announcement, but even that is minimalized. Notice the angels only appeared to some unimportant shepherds; that it was done at night; that at first there was only one angel until a group of angels appears at the very end of the announcement; that the angels were preoccupied only with giving a message and nothing more; as such, the angels only appeared for a short period of time; that the angels did not even sing. The Bible says the angels praised God, saying, “Glory,” or that they shouted with a loud voice, but there’s no singing. When the shepherds arrive where Jesus was born, there is no king in sight, only exhausted parents — themselves outcasts several times over — in the most meager of settings with a newborn son.
Minimalism in any category makes room for drama. If the story began at the crescendo, the narrative would have nowhere to go. But by starting at the lowest, the story is an ever-increasing crescendo. In a palace birth, the shepherds never would have been able to intrude in celebration, but this was a child given to the world rather than only to the wealthy. God intruded upon the world, the angels intruded upon the shepherds, the shepherds intruded upon Joseph and Mary, and the Messiah intruded upon our deepest and eternal needs — all this accomplished in the most non-intrusive, minimal way possible.
Comparing what Jesus came from in heaven with how He was presented at His birth highlights the minimalist qualities of merging the necessary and the beautiful, the function and the form, and the wisdom of restraint.