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Why Jesus Doesn't Belong in Christmas Décor

Dec 17 2013
Our attempts to portray our Savior, babe or not, fall sinfully short.

By the light of my Christmas tree, I sent an email to my children's Christian school teachers. "Please exempt my child from making or coloring pictures of Jesus, even as an infant in a manger," I wrote. This email was long overdue. For weeks, my kids had been bringing home coloring pages and art projects of nativity scenes. They'd pull them out of bulging backpacks and hand them over with sheepish looks. I know our family doesn't do this, their faces said, but the teacher told me to.

This time of year even non-Christians can scarcely ignore images of Jesus. He's the rustic wooden bundle in a neighbor's crèche. He's the plastic doll, lying on hay, at the children's Christmas pageant. He's the radiant little boy in thousands of beautiful and skillful works of art, representing the aesthetic of countless cultures and periods of human history.

But the recent controversy over what Jesus looked like (What color was his skin? His hair? His eyes?) highlights an important issue with such images of our Savior: we inevitably come to think, meditate, believe, and, yes, worship according to our mental or physical pictures.

Which is why I am compelled to avoid all images of Christ. From the statues of Jesus on people's vehicle dashboards to illustrations on covers of theological books (which I wrap in brown paper), images of Jesus are embedded in even our culture at large.

My objection to visually representing the second person of the Trinity is not a new position. Until the late 4th century, the Christian church universally condemned images of Christ. And, in the 16th century, many of the Protestant Reformers revived this practice. Fundamentally, though, the decision to reject images of Jesus begins with the words God gave to his covenant people on Sinai: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…You shall not bow down to them or serve them…." (Ex. 20:4-5)

The 17th-century theologian Francis Turretin summarizes the command this way: "The making of images is not absolutely interdicted [God doesn't forbid all representational art], but with a twofold limitation—that images should not be made representing God, nor be employed in his worship." This is true even of Jesus. Though fully human, his humanity cannot be separated from his divine person, which means visual images of Jesus are, in fact, attempting to picture God.

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