Thursday, December 24, 2009

How we see(k) Jesus

Today is Christmas Eve.

Though gifts may still need to be wrapped (or purchased!), chances are good your Christmas decorating is done.

For many of us, our seasonal décor includes a well-lit Christmas tree standing proudly in the living room, stockings hanging from the mantel, and a nativity scene set up in a quiet corner.

In that crèche, Joseph stands tall enough to bump his head on the stable's doorway; Mary's fair hair is complemented by her pale blue wrap; Jesus' skin is the color of a glass of milk with a single drop of strawberry Quik.

I confess, I struggle with artwork that portrays the holy family as if they were Nordic, rather than middle-Eastern. I hope this is more a concern for historical accuracy than it is pride in my own Jewish ancestry, though I can't say for sure.

Does our depiction of Jesus in artwork influence how we see Him?

I recently ran across an article that takes a different look at this issue. In the article, Elrena Evans tells how a Bible was produced in Mumbai last year which was "the first to be produced by Indians, for Indians in simple English."

Evidently the illustrations, including one depicting the holy family as poor Indian villagers, offended some groups. Their outcry resulted in revisions being made prior to the Bible's second printing last month.

Sidenote: A second printing, a year after the initial print run, in a country whose Christian population is 2.5%! That deserves some celebration, don't you think?

Evans points out:
Remaking Jesus to look like us isn’t a new phenomenon. Any number of famous Madonna-and-child paintings depict the Holy Family looking about as historically accurate as I look fastening a head covering over my red hair to play Mary in my church's Nativity play. Mary in a sari isn’t any further from what the actual Mary probably looked like than I am.
She's right. A trip to a decent-sized art museum will show that painters throughout history often rendered biblical characters to look more like the artists' contemporaries than robed-and-sandaled middle-Easterners.

Maybe we need to think of it another way. Have a listen to the song posted below (lyrics below the video) — especially the final verse.

Some Children See Him
Wihla Hutson & Alfred S. Burt

Some children see Him lily white,
the baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see Him lily white,
with tresses soft and fair.

Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heav'n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
with dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
this Savior whom we kneel beside.
some children see Him almond-eyed,
with skin of yellow hue.

Some children see Him dark as they,
sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they,
and, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each different place
will see the baby Jesus' face
like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
and filled with holy light.

O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering,
come worship now the infant King.
'Tis love that's born tonight!


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