The first nativity set I bought for our fledgling family, did not have a manger with the baby Jesus, or so it was thought. Ten dollars provided this bargain because someone did not search through all the packaging sufficiently before labeling it defective, for re-sale. Imagine my delight when, upon unpacking and trying to figure where I would find a ‘manger-and-Jesus-in-porcelain’ to match my new set, I found it neatly wrapped and buried at the bottom corner of the emaciated box, the fact that the characters were all cast in Euro-centric features not even vaguely being an issue.
That experience is something akin to the emotions that prompted my writing the poem, ‘Jesus, Pretty in Me’*. It was my first piece, written in verse, that sought to be faithful to the rhythm, idioms and phonology of Jamaican Creole speech. Still primarily an oral language at the time that I studied it, at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, the Jamaican patois reflects the geo-political history of our island, using English words yet employing West African syntax (grammar), and seasoned liberally with vocabulary and idioms reflecting our rich cultural mix. Despite the national treasure that it is, those who know the Jamaican Creole as their only language are often looked down on, as it marks one as uneducated, as standard English is Jamaica’s official language.
‘Jesus, Pretty in Me’ found me determined to celebrate all Christ had made me to be, stirred up as I was at that time, by the storms that accompany cross-cultural marriage and migration. Writing it afforded me a chance to explore some of the ideas with which every non-Caucasian ethnicity, introduced to Christianity in context of white Western culture, has had to grapple: Raising questions such as, Does God look like me? If He doesn’t, does He still care as much? If He does care, am I a sample of my type worthy of His regard and of significance in His Kingdom? And, an even more daunting query, Though I might be counted among the Redeemed, can He really be reflected as well through ‘me’? Me unedited by society’s or my own sharp, re-defining pen? The answer to this last, I found to my great relief, is an eternally resounding ‘Yes!’.
It is the message of the place of the Nativity—Bethlehem, ‘the least among the cities of Judah’ , the animal shelter, the rejected, the devalued, the set aside—the manger. This is the place The Eternal delights to reveal His glory, to proclaim and parade His Redemption plan, among the least of these. But the ‘least’ also need to embrace and walk out what He has worked in, living incarnationally.
The phrase ‘incarnational living’ might be fairly new terminology on the evangelical Christian landscape, but is an idea at least as old as the Creation itself. God’s willingness to not only dwell with mankind, but also in us, requires our participation. It is Biblically sound Christian doctrine that regeneration happens immediately, at the point of conversion. Yet how we struggle to believe it, between the now and the not yet, as we confront ourselves daily in the Mirror of the Scriptures, the mirrors provided by society and even in our physical mirrors. Yes, the one on the bathroom wall.
It is amazing, the meaning with which we load the shape of head and eyes, texture and length of hair, prominence or breadth of nose, height, weight and yes, skin tone or shade, seeking to assay each other’s value by external features. The conclusions we draw or transmit can help or hinder our progress in sanctification. Wrestling in prayer through some of these issues this Advent, the words of Watermark’s song ‘Come and make my heart Your home’, flooded in;
“Come and make my heart Your home;
Come and be everything I am and all I’ve known;
Search me through and through
‘til my heart becomes a home for you…
Let everything I do open up a door for You to come through..”
Twenty years ago I had gratefully, but with some anxious doubt, taken home what I thought was an incomplete Nativity set but God was in it. Jesus was nestled down, wrapped securely in a corner of the buffeted packaging. It took just a little careful unwrapping. Just as His coming was prophesied, He wrote about us in His book, before even one of our members was formed, said the Psalmist -Ps.139.
The intricacies of our make up were given expression and boundaries by Him. Yes, our forms also evidence the brokenness of sin, yet even those become fodder for His glory as they are yielded to Him in trust. As the light at Advent searches through the wood, hay and stubble of our hearts this year, and as we look in all the mirrors, may we know truth—He did not purchase us by accident. When He paid the price, He knew what He was getting, and considered the manger of our heart a fitting place for His abiding. May we allow His Spirit to carefully unwrap us this season and reveal Jesus, ‘Pretty in us’.
* See blog post by the same name, ‘Jesus, Pretty in Me’, on this site, along with audio performance and translation.