Thursday, December 12, 2013

Nativity Sets: Jesus As We Want Him To Be

I didn't plan on writing this post at all as recently as two hours ago.  My thinking about this all started with this post from The Theophilus Project's unofficial (since I kinda just made up the position) patron saint Rachel Held Evans, humorously detailing her and her husband's difficulty in finding a satisfactory "handmade, fair-trade, biblically-accurate, ethnically-realistic, reasonably-priced, child-safe nativity scene."  I could empathize, because I actually have a soft spot for nativity sets: I've got one sitting on my desk right now as I type away here in my office (in case you're wondering how that jibes with my apathy for all things decorating: the stable is carved out of a single block of wood and all of the figures are glued on.  It's all one piece.  I just set it down on my desk and I'm done.  I love it so much for, it's a fair trade craft from Ten Thousand Villages and made in the West Bank, which is pretty cool, too.  But I digress.)

Anyways, in a comment to Rachel's post, I simply wrote:

I just have my chess pieces re-enact the Nativity scene, whether they like it or not. The role of Baby Jesus is being played this year by my black queenside bishop's pawn.

And I thought, as every twentysomething with an internet connection does, "I should totally take a photo of it and post it to Facebook!"

So I did (see photographic evidence above).

And for something that really was just a tongue-in-cheek thing I did because I was bored coming home from work earlier this week, I got some very thoughtful feedback from a few of my friends about the nature of me making a biracial (as it were) nativity set out of my chess pieces.

I wasn't trying to be politically correct (otherwise, I probably would have mixed and matched the kings and queens as well, but then again, I'm not sure chess-adultery would do, even for the sake of an irreverent nativity scene), but looking back on most of the nativity sets I see, they are fairly...well, monochromatic.

And as we all know, the world is anything but.  The world we live in is bursting with color in every possible form.

And this is one of the most colorful holidays of the year--the reds and the greens are obvious, but there are also the purples and blues of the church liturgical colors, the whites of the snow and of the Christ candle, and the colors of all the people who portray live nativities in our churches and neighborhoods all over.

But when it comes to "the reason for the season," (aka Jesus), it seems we still want that reason to be white.

Why?  It couldn't possibly be, as Megyn Kelly claims in the above link, to be about historical  veracity: we simply have no way of conclusively knowing what exactly Jesus looked like, but considering the climate and surroundings of Biblical Israel, it's rather unlikely that He was the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Ken doll that traditionally He is depicted as.

And when we cannot know entirely what Jesus looked like, that unlikely traditional depiction, as it was begun by white Europeans, comes across as a form of idolatry: of us trying to make God (or God's Son, in this case) in OUR image, rather than the other way around.

I suppose the same could be said of any visual depiction of Jesus, ever: that whatever image we make Jesus in, it is in our's and not His.

But that does not mean that we have to hold tenaciously to one particular visual depiction over another simply because in that one, Jesus looks especially Nordic or whatever.

And really, I could be just as guilty of continuing the stereotypes: sure, I made the holy family out of black chess pieces, but the angels were white pieces.  (I could have mixed and matched, but as I said, I wasn't willing to make my pieces commit chess adultery.)

All of which is to say: thinking about this random bit of silliness for me has caused a lot of reflection, particularly about our need to recast Jesus as we want Him to be, rather than how He actually was and is.  Maybe we smooth over His rough edges.  Maybe we ignore some of the things He said.

And maybe we make Him look like someone He wasn't.

When asked for His name, God said to Moses at the burning bush, "I am what I am."

God is what God is.

This Christmas, let's let Jesus be who He is as well.

Yours in Christ,

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