This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

"We Didn't Know Who You Were"

There is a Christmas carol called “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.”  Mahalia Jackson used to sing it.  It’s been recorded by a lot of people since then.  (My family had it on the Andy Williams Christmas album.)

The song has always made me uncomfortable because of the repeated line, “We didn’t know who you were.”

I hear in that an implication that had we only known Jesus was the Lord God we would surely have given him a better welcome.

This strikes me as somewhat disingenuous.  Yeah, maybe God is incognito in Jesus.  But that is a fact that reveals how we treat everybody, especially poor, refugee babies.  I mean, seriously: we are separating infants from their mothers at our own borders as we speak.  We sure don’t appear to have any idea that these are human beings with rights and value.  We most certainly do not see the presence of God in these people who have been defamed as violent lawbreakers.

The point is not that we didn’t know who Jesus was; we don’t know who anybody is!  We don’t treat hardly anybody with the decency, grace, acceptance, and welcome we now decide Jesus deserved.  It’s not like we’d be off the hook if only people back then treated this one kid like the royalty he is.  Not if it didn’t change how we deal with others who are like him today.  

Lately, I noticed the middle verse that gets a bit more to the point:

The world treats you mean Lord
Treats me mean too
But that's how things are down here
We don't know who you are.

Changing the phrase to “We don’t know who you are” opens us up to the fact that this is not just about Jesus, a long time ago.  It is about how we treat people now.  We are failing to see Jesus Christ in everyone, every child, today.  

When some godless congressman complains about how “we can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies,” it makes my point.  If we don’t know who he is, that sweet little Jesus boy is nothing more than “somebody else’s baby” who threatens “our civilization.” 

We need to start seeing the sweet little Jesus boy in every child, especially those tossed into the meat-grinder of our political and economic dysfunction.  We need to see Jesus in the refugee boy washed onto the Mediterranean beach, or the kids blown up by a Saudi bomb in their school bus, or the 40% of American children who live in poverty, or the Palestinian children arrested by Israel, or the children forced to kill as soldiers in Africa, or the Rohingyan babies that Myanmaran soldiers threw into fires, and so on.  Until we start welcoming and treasuring and protecting and serving them like we know who they are — precious and miraculous children of God — we should stop pretending we care so much about the sweet little Jesus boy.

So if you put a nice little manger scene on your lawn this December, but still tolerate or even advocate for the oppression of “somebody else’s babies,” I submit you still don’t know (or care) who the sweet little Jesus boy really is.  You’ve reduced him to an excuse to have a big dinner and max out your credit card on Amazon.

In Advent, we have to start with repentance.  Like at the end of that song where it asks for forgiveness.  Wake up and start with that.  Go.


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