Stripping Jesus of everything he is
You may have seen in recent days this Christmas Card that was sent by the office of the Presiding Bishop of TEC.
It’s been raising some eye-brows and rightly so. But when a friend sent it to me again this weekend and asked me what I thought about it, I suddenly realised what the problem with the card was.
It strips Jesus of everything that he is.
Let me explain. Start with the portrayal of Mary. In this picture she is show as negro holding a child of indeterminate caucasian status. While some might accuse me here of being racist, what I see in this editing of who Mary is a clear rejection of the Jewish Messiahship of Jesus. Biblically, Jesus is the one foretold by the Hebrew Scriptures. He is the fulfilment of God’s purposes through a specific ethnic group and it his very Jewishness that is important. The Jesus of KJS’ Christmas card is not Jewish (a look at his mum tells you that) and therefore he cannot be the fulfilment of the prophecies. Perhaps the intent was to indicate to us that the prophecies weren’t real anyway so what does it matter? The Scriptures aren’t important – they don’t tell us what we really need to know about Jesus.
Let’s move onto the gifts and remind ourselves that gold, frankincence and myrrh have been replaced by presence, love and daily bread. Nothing too controversial you might say, but in reality these new gifts are a denial of who Jesus is.
Gold was the sign of Jesus’ kingship. It proclaimed him as the Lord of Lords, not just the King of the Jews but the Sovereign of the Entire Universe. Take away the gold and you remove the reality that this baby was the one by who’s word all of Creation came into being and is sustained every second.
Instead we have "presence" – Jesus is given the gift of someone "being there" but this new gift simply distracts from the sign of gold, that the emphasis in the stable is of Jesus being there. It is the King who is there, it is the King who we make a fuss about. The "gift of presence" simply draws us away from Jesus and makes us look elsewhere. "Look how nice that people are around him". No the Scriptures cry in response- look not at the sinful humans but instead look at and adore the sinless Monarch of everything.
Frankincense reminds us that Jesus is the Great High Priest, the one who performs the sacrifice. He is the only one who could present a sacrifice that would cover the sins of all the elect. The Aaronic priests could not achieve total cleansing with all their rituals – they only cleansed that which had already happened. The one for whom the sacrifice was made would then walk out of the Temple, sin and be back in the same place again.
In the card frankincense is replaced by "love" and Jesus is stripped of his loving High Priestly role. Instead of the recognition of the inability of humans to be good enough to earn salvation (represented by the fact that we need a great High Priest because we are not capable of doing it ourselves), instead of this we have the human being bringing her own love, a love which will be enough. "That’s all we need to be one big happy family", the card says. "All we need is love". Jesus doesn’t need to be the High Priest – we can do that!!! Gone is the God who can cleanse us and in its place are humans who can do it for themselves.
But the worst is to come. Myrrh, of course, is a sick gift to give to a child. It’s like turning up at the baby shower with a little coffin all wrapper up nicely in a bow. Myrrh is embalming fluid for dead people and is a sign that Jesus is not only the great High Priest but also the sacrifice. He is the only provision that will satisfy the debt of sin. Nothing else will do. Myrrh is laid at his crib as a mark of his future and Matthew (and countless Christians down the ages) revels in it. Jesus is the provision that no other provision can substitute.
Except in the card.
In the card Myrrh is replaced by "daily bread". Where as Biblically the gift of Myrrh points to the fact that humans cannot achieve their salvation and that only Jesus can provide, in the card it is very clear that humans will manage quite fine by themselves. While the gift of Myrrh is a clear indication that the one giving the gift cannot contribute anything to his salvation, the gift of "daily bread" says the opposite. In Scripture daily bread comes from God, whether as the foreshadowing manna or the reality of basic provision in the Lord’s Prayer. In the card the provision is from human hands, hands that don’t need Jesus in order to produce it.
But to rub salt into the wound, the woman providing the daily bread is the only one of the three gift-givers who wears blatantly pagan clothes. Wrapped in her Native American shawl she proclaims to the world that there are other paths to God, that Jesus is not the true and only way to the Father. Forget the divine God of the Universe and concentrate on the wolf and the wind as your spiritual guides.
Why she didn’t just bother bringing a raisin cake beats me.
The card is a picture of "mutuality and interdependence", but the reality of the Visit of the Magi was a clear recognition of humanity’s reliance upon and total dependence to a God who made himself nothing. In the stable of Matthew Jesus is the King of Kings, the Great High Priest and the one Atoning Sacrifice. In the Christmas Card above he is nothing more than a human being just like you and me, stripped of divinity and purpose, and the other humans (but NOT him) are glorified as the ones who will provide and save.
And the sender of this card is the Presiding Bishop.
Roll on the Lent Studies on the MDG. Methinks we ain’t seen nothing yet…