The Christmas lights shine across the room, reminding me that this is the season to rejoice in the birth of a savior named Jesus. I remember as a child I would sit in church staring up at Him, wondering what made him so special. It never occurred to me that in all the churches we attended throughout the world, that He always looked the same. His long brown mane flowed past his strong lean shoulders, his arms stretching out about his flowing robes as if welcoming others to join Him.
Over the years I would see images of Jesus as a baby in his mother’s arms, or as a child fishing or working with wood. He always had the same sun-kissed brown hair. His eyes were never a color that I recollect, but piercing, as if judging me as I judged Him. But He was always pale, the color of a soft sea shell with a hue of pink.
Then one day I was walking along at a flea market and there before my eyes was a black Jesus. I stopped and looked at him for only a moment and moved on. But my mind was racing as I walked. It had never dawned on me that Jesus might be black. Why couldn’t He be black? Why couldn’t He be of yellow tones, or be of a different ethnicity than my own? After all, our world is made of of many different people of color and race!
It wasn’t until much later in my life did my thoughts arise again about the skin color of Jesus. I was standing in a small boutique when my eyes caught the carvings of a Mexican nativity. I gently picked up one of the kings and studied his face. His moustache dipped down past his chin while his bushy eyebrows seemed to come alive on his brown wooden painted face. His robe of bright yellow seemed odd with its dashes of orange that marbled his attire. He was quite festive looking. He made me smile. Jesus lay in his crib nearby, round and chubby with the same brown paint for his skin. Could Jesus be olive skinned and not pale like I once thought?
Then, a few years ago, I discovered the most amazing and wonderful thing as I was at my neighbor’s home. There, in almost every room of her home sat the most incredible nativity sets I had ever seen. Chinese, Haitian, Philippines, Myramar, Mongolian, Cambodian, and Italian among others. I stood in front of each of them, marveling at the details that shaped the faces; the slant of eyes, and yes, the color of skin. For those carved of wood, I looked to see if the same gentle face stared up at me from the manger…it did. The face may have been round, pointed, hallow, but still the eyes stared up onto me, studying me as if wondering why I looked different than I had when I was young. I set about taking pictures of each nativity, waiting for the perfect time to share them with others.
And then, as I made my way across the United States on a trip, stopping in Santa Fe, New Mexico, imagine my surprise to see an American Indian nativity. Each piece shaped in the image of Native Indians. It was lovely. I began to think again… could there be Irish nativities, Russian or ones from South America? After that, I began to search the nativities out… finding them everywhere, all unique in their own way. And then I understood.
For Jesus is all colors, all ethnicities, everything we are. For God gave His son to us in the image we would understand and learn to love.
And so, when Christmas comes around, I gently place my Italian nativity on my curio shelf and smile. For looking up at me is that innocent face of Jesus. He seems to know that although my face has aged and weathered since I was a child, I have not changed my love for him… regardless of his many colors. For He is all things to all people, but mostly, He is love.
Author’s Note: Feast of Epiphany or Three Kings Day is celebrated around the world by Christians on January 6th of each year. It represents the day the Three Kings appeared to Jesus in a manger bearing gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. Each gift representing the acknowledgement of Jesus as the King of Jews. For more information click here
Thank you to Ingrid & Mark Gillette for sharing your many nativities with the world.