Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Acceptable Gift

Musings after Christmas

There is an old song…lyrics from the 1930’s I think, that was sung at St. Paul’s Christmas Eve….

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 Saviour 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 heav’nly 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!

The song is a sweet recognition that Godde appears to us in ways that we can recognize ….in ways that make it possible to be aware of the Divine. And, that children see differently than adults. If not otherwise taught, toddlers see other toddlers as just other humans their size regardless of color, shape or ability.

Early in the years I was dating my husband, he attended a Christmas Gala held by an old acquaintance. It was someone I didn’t know, and likely to be very upscale, so I stayed home. He took a gift, and was surprised to see that it wasn’t put under the perfect tree, because it needed to be rewrapped to match all the coordinated presents that were wrapped in one style. And of course, that got me to thinking….

The perfectly matched gift made me wonder how we repackage Godde’s gift … re wrap…so that the gift fits our personal décor. There are some obvious answers, of course. It is one thing for children to see the baby Jesus as a blond fair skinned child like them. Or an ebony skinned black haired little one. But I remember reading an article in the magazine called the Texas Coach that had a picture of Jesus and asserted that he had fair skin, blue eyes and …get this…a crew cut !! Just like the guy who wrote the article.

Then there was a series of interviews that the late Peter Jennings did in Israel with tourists for a special on Jesus. He asked people what they thought Jesus looked like and several said…like you and me ….white Midwestern Americans on tour in the Holy Land.

In contrast, several years ago I heard a sermon by Fr. Jim Hogan about Jesus the Man. He pointed out that Jesus was likely about 5’4”…medium height for his time…a Semitic person i.e. dark skinned, dark eyed, and very dark haired. He was also from an expressive culture of Mediterranean people and very likely talked using his hands quite a bit. Think Palestinians, Italians, Turks….Jews !

So I am thinking that one of the reasons we repackage Jesus is to make us feel safer with him. Regardless of what Abraham learned about entertaining strangers who may be angels, we don’t like strangers very much. We like people who are just like us and don’t challenge us to consider who we think is valuable, important and most of all, safe. And in times when we don’t feel very safe, we may close our circle a bit more.

There is nothing wrong with embracing a familiar figure of Jesus when we are in need of comfort. I LIKE the Good Shepherd, thank you, even if I know that Jesus trained as a carpenter. And we all like the cooing baby, lulled by the cattle that are lowing, in almost any racial configuration. But Jesus grew up, as have we, and our faith is called to grow up, too. The baby is a man, a poor man, with dusty smelly garments, followed by the riff raff of his culture and stirring up trouble with the authorities. Just how much work are we willing to do to remove the perfectly patterned wrapping paper we have cloaked him with, and see Godde’s gift as both challenge and comfort, an adult with compelling voice, someone asking the hard questions and waiting for our response ?

So I ask you, and myself…..what do you do to make Jesus acceptable in your heart’s décor ? How do you want him wrapped, concealed, disguised… order to not disturb the peace ? Godde’s gift is Love in human form……but Love has edges and questions….and we are missing a great deal if we cover it with pretty foil and bows.

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