Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lay Aside Each Earthly Thing

Some children see Him lily white, The baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see Him lily white, With tresses soft and fair.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown, The Lord of heav'n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown, With dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed, This Savior whom we kneel beside.
Some children see Him almond-eyed, With skin of yellow hue.
Some children see Him dark as they, Sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they, And, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each different place Will see the baby Jesus' face

Like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace, And filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing, And with thy heart as offering,
Come worship now the infant King. 'Tis love that's born tonight!

Have you ever heard this unpretentious Christmas carol?  Years ago, my parents had a record with this song on it, and they played it often when I was a kid, back in upstate New York.  I haven't heard it since.

Which, apparently, proves I'm not a James Taylor fan, because when I went searching online for this carol's lyrics, his version of it is all over the Internet.  Originally, however, musician Alfred Burt, the son of an Episcopalian minister, composed it in 1951.

From all of those Christmases as a child, I still remember this carol today, because it reminds me about the dangers of ethnocentrism, even though I had no idea what "ethnocentrism" was when I was little.  It's the song that was running through my head when I commiserated about Son of God, that troublesome movie by Roma Downey.

We white evangelicals of European descent presume that our Savior looked mostly like us.  But aren't our presumptions based more on ethnocentrism than literal reality?  How likely is it that, like Burt's carol, Christ-followers of every ethnicity tend to mentally compose their presumptions of Christ's appearance upon their own?

Obviously, even though He's immortal, Christ is alive, which means his skin color and ethnicity is fixed, real, and biological.  Being Jewish, with a mother from the southern shores of the Mediterranean, Christ's human characteristics likely tilt towards an olive-toned complexion, with skin a bit darker that an ordinary Caucasian's, and hair more black than brown.  Conventional Asians and Africans probably wouldn't see obvious resemblances to themselves in Christ's appearance, but then again, most whitey-whites like me wouldn't, either.

As I've grown up and matured - well, theoretically, anyway! - I don't really think much about what Christ looks like anymore.  When we're kids, we spend much more time processing such things in our little brains, developing an ability to differentiate between various characteristics, shapes, colors, and such.  We're discovering how we fit into the social environment around us.  Recognizing different ways different people look and act is part of our socialization.

But how much of that process really gets left behind as we mature?  As adults, maybe we Christ-followers care less about what Christ looks like, but again, like Burt's carol, might we mistakenly apply other characteristics to Him that the Bible never tells us He has?

For example, a recent disagreement has broken out on a couple of popular evangelical websites about Christ being a "friend of sinners," and the extent to which Christ would endorse certain lifestyles, habits, and versions of morality.  Some adults see Him reaching out to gays in a way that affirms their desire to marry somebody of the same sex.  But other adults see Him loving sinners, but not their sins, and encouraging the former to abandon the latter.

Some adults see Him as a great social welfare advocate, preaching wealth redistribution and the evils of moneymaking, while some adults see Him as encouraging the hoarding of profits people earn as the result of honest work.  After all, it's the love of money that's the root of all sorts of evil, not money itself.

Some adults see Him as a red-blooded American right-wing Republican, a swashbuckling champion of individuality, freedom, and fun.  Meanwhile, however, some adults see Him as an apolitical moralist who created the institution of government, and told His followers to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's."  And that Biblical freedom is not political freedom.

Some adults see Him as a pop culture icon, readily adaptable to changing styles and fashions, and totally fine with going with the flow.  Other adults see Him as rigidly ascribing to His Father's holy decrees, some out of legalism, and others simply because we're called to be separate; "in the world, but not of it."

And then, of course, there are all of the other adults who see the nuanced degrees of differences, exceptions, and interpretations between these more popular visions of Christ.  We believe that since the Christ in Whom we're to believe isn't explicitly described for us in the Bible, that we're entitled to a certain degree of flexibility when it comes to envisioning how and why we believe in, trust in, and serve the Son of God.

Meanwhile, I keep being drawn to the last few lines of this carol by Alfred Burt.  Not as a universalistic panacea for all that ails Christ's Earthly body, but as a refrain of authentic worship that is more profound that we normally expect in such songs:

O lay aside each earthly thing, And with thy heart as offering,
Come worship now the infant King. 'Tis love that's born tonight!

Do we love Christ more than we love ourselves?  Do we love others more than we love ourselves?  Do we love our ideas, preferences, lifestyles, money, skills, interpretations, idols, and even our fears more than we love Christ?

Yes, how we "mature" Christians see Him should have a lot more to do with His truth than His skin color.  Unfortunately, the way some Christians want to see Christ seems to have less to do with unpopular morality, His relationship with our holy Father, and the penalty of our raw sins from which His death frees us, and more to do with easy, rationalized, sophomoric trendiness.

Let's not forget that God looks at our hears, and knows the degree of our allegiance to His Word.  So Whom are we fooling?  The more that Christ is "King" of our lives, and not simply a pawn of our myopic worldview, how we see Him will probably bear less resemblance to the world around us.  And it'll probably show, when contrasted to the world around us.

The apostle Paul put it rather succinctly in Colossians 2:8:  "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."

It's not just little children who need to lay aside each Earthly thing!

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