Fox News host Megyn Kelly, critiquing a Slate.com column “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore,” set off a national discussion: just how white Christmas should be? Kelly, after pronouncing Santa white, added, “Jesus was a white man too.”
Ah, reducing the focus of the faith of one of the world’s great religious to a pawn in the North American skirmish over racial politics!
Of course, all insensitivities aside, occasioning discussion of Jesus’ ethnicity could be helpful… raise people’s consciousness. There are important theological, political and social issues and commitments wrapped up in these questions. And if our God is truly incarnational, then the specifics of our peculiarity are important!
If God came to humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, no one group can claim him exclusively. But since God came into the world to be like us, actually to be one of us… in this sense, Jesus can rightly be considered anyone…everyone’s relative, more like you than not.
There is therefore some important identification happening when African American churches see Jesus as Black or when Korean or Chinese congregations recognize him as Asian. He came to you, your family, your people… as one of your own.
If Kelly had not been claiming Jesus’ ethnicity exclusively, she might have had some circumscribed grounds for saying that Jesus was white. The crucial trick, however, is to identify with him intimately, without denying that Jesus is equally like whoever is not like us, especially those we consider “other.”
In fact, as the One who came into a world that knew him not, as the One with no place to rest his head, there’s good reason to think of Jesus as the person you see least like you. Or maybe the one you find it hardest to see as a person deserving your notice and respect.
He wasn’t born a privileged Roman, but a peasant Jew, a homeless child of a colonized people. He isn’t your typical North American. He’s the one people question whether he belongs here.
Let me try this, using a playful sermon illustration called “Three Good Reasons”:
There are 3 good arguments that Jesus was Black: 1. He called everyone “brother” 2. He liked Gospel 3. He couldn’t get a fair trial
But then there are 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish: 1. He went into His Fathers business. 2. He lived at home until he was 33. 3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his mother thought he was God.
But then there are 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian: 1. He talked with his hands. 2. He had wine with every meal. 3. He used olive oil.
But then there are 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian: 1. He never cut his hair. 2. He walked around barefoot all the time. 3. He started a new religion.
But then there are 3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Irish: 1. He never got married. 2. He was always telling stories. 3. He loved green pastures.
But the most compelling evidence of all – 3 proofs that Jesus was a woman:
1. He fed a crowd at a moment’s notice when there was no food. 2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn’t get it
3. And even when he was dead, He had to get up because there was more work to do.
Ok, none of them are really good arguments; instead, they are built on silly stereotypes. But you get the picture.
At Old First, we played around a bit on Christmas Eve with who Jesus was. Or better yet, what his family was like. Hopefully, not in any way that claimed one group of people was inherently superior to others. Rather, in a way we expect makes Jesus proud, we were making the opposite point. That everyone is worthy, respected, created, loved, valued by God.
Jesus asks us to look in new ways – with more recognition that comes of love– at people who have been misunderstood, distrusted or devalued.
Actually, nothing done was intended to make a statement or history. Instead, we were looking for a baby Jesus for the 8 p.m. service. And usually, when we find a child, his or her parents are Mary and Joseph.
Jameson, just a few days past his first birthday was a willing Jesus for the Candlelight service. And since he has two moms, why wouldn’t the honor of playing Mary and Joseph go to them. Ivelisse smiled and said “I’ll be Joseph,” and Melisha added, “She’s always like that.”
We didn’t do it to politicize Christmas. Instead, we did it to recognize the sacredness of a family. And in so doing, to help us all remember, especially on our high holiday, that families in all their different configurations are holy. Because human relations are a primary way by which God means to spread love in the world. We thank Ivelisse, Melisha and Jameson for sharing their family and their love with us.
By the way, at the 5 p.m. Outdoor Service we hade a tiny Jesus all bundled up against the cold. One month old Aurora Setzler is daughter of Carla and Joe, and Alice Reyes’ granddaughter.
Carla started to cry when the crowd gathered around the Creche was singing carols to Jesus and her daughter cradled in her arms, Joe standing by her side. She said later, “I was so sure God loved my child, and how good God can be to us all.”
Just in case, anyone cares, Jameson and Aurora are — like most of us on this continent– of mixed heritage. Jameson is Puerto Rican and Cuban. And Aurora is Puerto Rican, Colombian, German and Irish. Oh, and both children are Americans…
See you in church,