Happy Monday, Friends! Welcome to the second week of Advent and the second week of preparing for the arrival of Jesus at Christmas. The hymn “Away in a Manger” includes this line: “The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.” When Christians imagine the birth of Jesus, our image tends to be a pastoral manger scene as warm as our homes where Mary carefully places her child on a comfortable straw bed and the wind rustles gently outside. Throughout the night angels sing and shepherds process by the manager to genuflect to Christ incarnate. Even the animals reverently bow to Jesus. There is no fear, pain, or crying. The entire image resonates the glow of a Norman Rockwell painting. It makes for great cards and ornaments. Like Rockwell, Christmas cards, and ornaments it’s an entirely false depiction.
Mary is a girl, her husband, Joseph, is older. They’re poor, far from home, staying in a shed. Nothing is clean or comfortable. The scene is noisy and busy. Jesus cries like all newborns and his terrified mother does her best to keep him quiet as the animals express their discontent. It’s a picture of near disaster; a photo buried in the back cover of the family album.
The Bible depicts Jesus as a person of first-century Palestine, brown skinned, and poor. His immediate family lives in a collective community which travels together and supports each other. Shortly after his birth, Jesus becomes a refugee and migrant fleeing persecution by King Herod. While sacred scripture doesn’t provide a complete view, his upbringing seems happy and fulfilling. He’s loved and he’s taught how to love. He grows up knowing about the dominant, governing culture (Roman) as well as his own marginalized culture. He lives as a homeless, iterant minister during a time and in a region with diverse and conflicting religious groups. Ultimately, he becomes a victim of an occupying force terrified of dissension and is put to death in a gruesome and public manner.
Christian nationalism is recreating Jesus in the model of white supremacy. The reality of the Jesus story is being replaced by a sterilized ideal of the white nationalist man. Who is this Jesus? He’s a man possessing all the marks of a virile, even chauvinistic character who leads, fights for family values, and protects women by controlling as much of their lives as possible. He values life from conception to death, unless they committed a crime, then he might support their murder by the state. He’s indifferent to LGBTQIA+ people and might even hate them. He definitely believes there are only two genders. He wants to build a wall at the southern border, because illegal immigration is a serious issue to safety and the job prospects of Americans. He supports tax cuts for the rich because they create jobs. He decries social services for the poor because it makes people lazy. The Christian nationalist Jesus knows that the best way for free people to protect themselves is by keeping guns readily available. In short, this Jesus wants to make America great again.
Despite their own rhetoric, the Biblical Jesus and the Christian nationalist Jesus look nothing like each other. One is focused on community while the other is obsessed with control and power. One hungers for liberation while the other thirsts to further oppress the marginalized. One brings truth while the other offers sweet lies presented as hope. In a season where religion so often makes its bed with politics, the identity of the long-awaited messiah could not be more different. Before we pluck the splinter out of our sibling’s eye or even attend to the log in our own eye, perhaps we should consider the Jesus we will welcome on Christmas.
Who is Jesus for you? How have you come to understand Jesus?
Let us pray: God, we want to know who you really are. The church has told us one story, Christian nationalism wants to tell us another story, and our hearts tell a third story. Help us sort out God from noise, truth from error, love from hate, and light from darkness. Grant us the grace to construct an accurate understanding of who you are and you want us to be. We ask this in the name of your true son. Amen.
Blessings on your weeks, my friends. Let me know if there is anything I can do.