This week I have been trying to buy a nativity set for the church. As I have left this mission rather late, the choice available has been somewhat limited. The sets that I have seen have been too small for our needs, or aimed at children – all a bit too cutesy, or all a bit white. It is curious that although our society has become more and more
diverse, Mary, Joseph, Jesus and even the shepherds are still mainly portrayed as Caucasian Europeans!
When I was a child, I used to go to a Saturday art class at the local art gallery. One exhibition was a set of Japanese
prints, some of which had a religious theme. To my complete shock, in these pictures Jesus and his disciples were all clearly Japanese. As the girl chosen to play Mary because of my long blonde hair and blue eyes, this was all just plain wrong. Jesus looked English, didn’t everybody know that?
I once saw a life size sculpture portraying Mary, Joseph and Jesus as they fled from Bethlehem to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-14). The statue is full of interesting detail – the donkey carrying Mary is chewing the corner of Joseph’s cloak, as he is leading the donkey along. Jesus is sitting in his mother’s arms. Mary and Joseph have olive skin and dark hair. Jesus’ face however is made a completely reflective material. The sculptor wanted to show that Jesus belongs to every country and race – Jesus is like all of us and is also unique.If we are made in the image of God, then that is what we see when we look into this particular face of Jesus. We see ourselves reflected back.
So many of the depictions we will see of the birth of Jesus over the next few weeks will be stylised and airbrushed. It is hard to really get a sense of the earthiness of the birth pains, the baby’s first cry, and then the amazing visit of the
shepherds and their story. Try and find an image that speaks to you, that helps you to focus in on the true miracle of Christmas – Immanuel ,“God with us”.