If you have a crèche at home you will notice how the characters look, how they are depicted. Of course the scenes are a composite of Luke and Matthew, the shepherds, the Inn, Mary and Joseph, Angels, the animals and strangely the three Magi and their camels. I say strangely because the Magi don’t appear in the story until Jesus is older and yet in our popular imagination all of the characters are there together. It’s like looking at a picture of the Rolling Stones and seeing Brian Jones and Ron Wood playing guitar side by side. (So I doubt there are many description of the crèche that include a comparison to the Rolling Stones!)
I mentioned in an earlier blog how we tend to domesticate this story, make the characters all look like us. No Palestinian Jews here, no Middle Eastern looks, no exotic Magi types, every one of the crèche character look like someone who lives in Sydney River or Tantallon or Eastern Passage. That would be OK if it weren’t for the fact that in many countries that were colonized by the Christian Europe and North America their crèche scenes look the same as ours.
It bothers me that in the United States the states that are the most opposed to accepting immigration, legal or illegal, are the states with the highest percentage of Christians and church going people. That means that in places where persons are staring at a crèche scene they are no seeing a refugee family in Joseph and Mary. How is that possible? When the census is referenced and the Holy Family make their way to town, only to find there is no place for them to sleep or give birth somehow this is not homeless, not refugees, not people displaced and alien.
It gets worse when the Holy Family leave for fear of the blood thirty tyrant only to land in Nazareth, a place the Bible routinely mocks as a joke, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” Again there is a familiarity and comfort in our depictions of this family, they appear like distant relations of ours, the only thing “other” about the birth are the outfits, no parkas there, no huskies, only donkeys and camels.
This is why I was so impressed to see the manger scene at the corner of Coburg Road and Robie Street this Advent, as St. Andrew’s United Church in Halifax used the familiar scene to add the United Nations refugee flag and tent to clearly identify the Holy Family with the refugees all over the world, and particularly the ones fleeing Syria. If people made that connection in US states with large Christian populations one would hope support to sponsoring these refugees would be strong, not weak as it presently is.
This is what the church of 2017 needs to do, shift its sacred stories away from comforting domesticated versions of our family tree toward the true connection between the Holy Family and the very peoples of our world who live in fear and flight. Only then will the skeptical world really understand that we Christians are serious about living, not just talking about, our faith in Jesus.