As I take my five-mile walk each morning I find myself contemplating the various crèches I see around town. Most of them are pretty tacky, but that’s OK. Spiritual kitsch is one the things I like best about religion.
I love the meaning of the crèche. Jesus, the King of the Jews and Son of God, coming to challenge Herod and Caesar, the other King of the Jews and Son of God, being born in such humble circumstances suggests to me that great transformations begin in humble circumstances. Christmas gives us a clear choice: whom will you follow God or Caesar? I know that the history of the whole thing is doubtful, but Christmas isn’t really about history, it’s about hope. (Hope the feeling, not Hope, Arkansas birthplace of Christian Leader and perhaps soon to be Protestant and Chief Mike Huckabee.)
Anyway, as I walk around town studying the various crèches on people’s lawns, I have come to obsess about the Three Wise Men. I don’t know if this is unique to Murfreesboro or to Tennessee in general, but in every crèche I’ve seen, the Three Wise Man are pygmies.
The problem is that crèches are not made to scale. Mary and Joseph are giants, and barely fit in the manger. Yet no matter how big his parents are, the baby Jesus is huge in comparison. There is no way, baring an act of God (which of course is possible), that that baby could come out of that woman. And did you ever notice that Mary has already lost the weight gained during her pregnancy? Another miracle!
Yet what really surprises me is the Wise Men. As I said, they are no bigger than baby Jesus, yet they are supposed to be grown men. And then there is the color issue: the Three Wise and Very Short Men are always black or brown, while Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are always white.
This makes no sense. Jews in the time of Jesus were brown. Even if God is white, Jesus would still be half brown on his mother’s side. Jews are only white in cultures that are predominately white. This is because of the food, not because of intermarriage, since intermarriage is only a recent phenomenon: Chinese Jews look Chinese because they eat Chinese food, not because their parents married Chinese people and had Jewish-Chinese babies. [Though this does not explain why American Jews look white rather than Chinese given the amount of Chinese food we eat.]
Anyway, why are the Wise Men so small? First they could be pygmies, though you would think one of the Gospel writers would have mentioned this. Or maybe the crèche designers were white and they didn’t like the idea of brown Wise Men in the first place, so they did what they could to down play the Three by making them tiny. Who knows? Anyway, I would like to encourage future crèche makes out there to work on the scale of things. And let’s darken up the skin of the Holy Family, while you’re at it.