God with All of Us

“Apache Virgin and Child,” John Giuliani

Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were not white. This is ridiculously obvious, but I didn’t really appreciate that fact until I was a young adult.

As part of a college program in the Holy Land, I had the opportunity to visit the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel. A shrine or church has stood on that site for a very long time, since at least the fourth century.

“Mother of God of Africa,” Liesbeth Smulders

The latest iteration was built in the 1960s, and part of the design included inviting mosaics or paintings of Mary and Jesus from around the world, each depicting those figures in ways that were ethnically appropriate to each country or region. The result is a visual feast as visitors to the upper level of the basilica are greeted by dozens of diverse images of “Madonna and Child.”

Gazing on those images, I realized how narrow my own visual imagination had been—by default, I had always simply imagined the Holy Family to look like me. It was also important to realize that the images were not all Middle Eastern or Semitic, either.

The wide range of particularities and peculiarities in those beautiful portrayals carried a truly rich theological insight: God is with us, is with all of us—with Palestinians and Italians and Kenyans and Chinese and Indians and Irish and…the list is as long as every possible version of humanity we can think of. And I would also add to that list every possible version of God’s creatures, human and other-than-human alike.

God is with Us. That is the wonderful and always good news of Christmas. And as I realized many years ago in Nazareth, the Good News is made even richer with the glorious diversity of God’s creation. Merry Christmas!

“Ukrainian Madonna,” Olesya Hudyma

Author: The Rev. Dr. Jay

I'm an Episcopal priest, parish pastor, and Christian theologian as well as a writer, teacher, and occasionally, a poet. I'm committed to the transforming energy of the Christian gospel and its potential to change the world -- even today. Now that's peculiar, thank God!

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