(This has been adapted from writings by Patrick Mead)
Many different santas with their fake beards & welcoming laps are in our malls & department stores now. Lines of kids form impatiently waiting to speak to their one hope of getting that new ipod or 3D video game. I read recently where a small town used a woman to play Santa for the town hall party. Just unheard of-men should always be Santa because they are far more used to sitting in one place for long periods of time than women are and they’re better at making big promises they have no intention of keeping.
In different cultures across the world people will remake Santa in their image. You’ll see big Santas & little Santas. Tall Santas & short Santas. White Santas & brown Santas. And that’s great. We want Santa to look familiar, the better for him to get to know us so he’ll know what size shirt to get us.
The problem is when we try to remake Jesus in our image, reversing the order of Genesis 1:27. Several years ago, the British Broadcasting Company ran a mini-series on the life of Jesus. There were howls of protest, not because they had gotten the story wrong, but because the actor chosen to play Jesus was short and overweight. They said "Jesus wasn’t short! He wasn’t overweight!" Really? Who says? What if he were? What if Jesus had acne scars, or bad breath, or crooked teeth, or walked with a limp.
One criticism of Jesus was that he was a country hick. The accent Jesus and his apostles had marked them as coming from a part of Judea that was considered a joke by the rest of the nation. They were assumed to be uneducated. Remember how, as soon as they began speaking, they were labeled as "ignorant and unlearned men"? What if you get to heaven and Jesus sounds like Jeff Foxworthy… or Larry the Cable Guy? What if you get to heaven and hear a Yankee accent or a Texas drawl. Maybe he sounds British, “Welcome to heaven you bloody saints.”
You’re not offended are you? Some of us have made an idol of a white American Jesus. Remember this: Jesus looked like an Arab looks today. He would have had the coloring and features that would have singled him out for extra screening at the airport. He might have made you nervous when he sat beside you on the bus. His accent would sound strange to you.
Politicians try to make Jesus be a member of their party, instead of doing the hard thing and trying to be a member of his. Remember the "What would Jesus drive?" advertising campaign of a few years ago? The assumption was that Jesus (always gentle, meek, mild) would want to treat the planet lovingly, with sweetness and care. He would, the commercials left no doubt, drive a Prius or ride a bicycle. Where did we get the idea that Jesus wants to save the planet? Didn’t he tell us, in no uncertain terms, that he was going to destroy it by fire?
I saw a "Who would Jesus bomb?" bumper sticker not long ago. It’s a sarcastic question that implies God is a pacifist. It makes me wonder if those people have ever read the Old Testament. By looking at just a few parables and teachings in the gospels, they have a skewed picture of Jesus. Look at God moving in the Old Testament and in Revelation and you see great swaths of destruction, destroyed cities and cultures, and dead bodies alongside the road. It seems that God IS willing to kill some folk… unless you decide to remake Him in your image.
Most leaders of the emerging church believe that Jesus is a Democrat and a pacifist because they are. Most Republicans think Jesus likes them best. Jesus is not a mascot for our desires, wishes, and dreams.
It is too easy to create new stereotypes of what Jesus looks like. We can see Jesus in the life of Mother Teresa… but can we also see him in the bloodshot eyes of a recovering addict, or the fancy suit of a company CEO, or in the tired face of a third generation welfare mom?
God gave us 66 books to show us His many faceted character. When we make God in our image, or when we localize God to a few gospel stories, we lose the big picture and end up with a white skinned, blue eyed, brown haired Jesus. That was the mistake Jesus’ people made in the first century. They had so many preconceptions concerning how the Messiah would act, sound, and look, that Jesus didn’t measure up and they passed over him, waiting for a better Messiah to come along.
Jesus, in fact, transcends every classification because he is God and Man — both fully. We should quit trying to make him in our image and bow our knees to him so that he can remake us in his.