Jesus: More Than A Perfect Portrait

Deepa David   |   December 15, 2021 

When we went to Saravana Bhavan for breakfast recently, we saw a huge portrait of the owner of this famous restaurant with a prominent religious guru. The portrait was a symbol of many things. It conveyed not only the restaurant owner’s worldly power, success and influence but it also seemed to show he was religious and favoured by the gods. A portrait with such a revered religious guru was not an easy feat. Only the rich and powerful had such access. And when one gets to be in such a position and proximity, you want the world to take notice of it. 

Showing off such a perfect portrait of power, success and influence is common within Christianity as well. Christians have ways to show their significance and the advent season offers plenty of opportunities for such displays. Most of us are already planning dinners and parties, gifts and goodies as the advent season begins. We want to host the best parties and give the best gifts. We want to capture the best moments, after a hundred poses to find that best moment and post it on social media right away.  Sometimes we end up imagining the first Christmas to be picture perfect as well.

Most Christmas images have Mary and Joseph wearing pastel shades of soft clothing with halos around their head admiring their beautiful chubby angelic baby. A few animals are set up like props, quietly smiling down on the baby and a bright star shines over this entire scene. The picture is surreal, clean, neat, scrubbed and sanitised to give us sentimental feelings during this season. But the reality was far from this. 

Jesus was born at a time when the Romans were in control of Israel and the Romans used local leaders like Herod to rule the people. Herod was known for his ruthless murders and massacres. The political situation was volatile and oppressive. The economic conditions were exceptionally hard too. The Jews were taxed mercilessly by their own people. People lived in fear and turmoil. Poverty, oppression, illness and death painted the landscape around the time of Jesus’ birth.

It was during this time that the Jews were crying out for a Messiah. They expected their Messiah to be born in a palace, to deliver them from Roman oppression and usher in an era of peace. Yet, Jesus was born in a manger. Not the kind of manger that we have in our nativity scene. This manger was a cold, dark cave with a feeding trough cut from its walls. Mary and Joseph themselves were probably unkempt and untidy from their long journey to Bethlehem for the census. And the animals weren’t cute or clean and they definitely didn’t smell pleasant by any stretch of your imagination. 

Luke records the birth of Jesus like this, 

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2: 1-7

Now, why would God choose a time and place like this to send His only Son? Why was His birth announced to lowly shepherds? Why wasn’t there any fanfare fit to announce the birth of a king? Why was He associated with Nazareth, the most insignificant and underrated place in Galilee? We see this theme throughout Scripture. God chooses the weak, the foolish, the forgotten, the unloved and the undeserved as recipients of His grace. God chose younger Abel and not older Cain, Jacob and not Esau, David and not his older brothers. God chose the older Sarah, unloved Leah, the barren Rebekah, Hannah and Elizabeth and the list goes on. 

Jesus came for the poor, the lowly, the humble, the ones who admit they are sinful, weak and need a Saviour. The world works exactly the opposite. Those who have power, money and status have access to religious leaders and holy places. But in Jesus, God turns the world’s system upside down. He draws near to those who are suffering and struggling and willing to admit it. 

In a day and age when our life has to be Instagram ready, Jesus sees through our filters. At a time when we only want to post the best side of us on Facebook, Jesus sees our hurt and pain, our bitterness and anger. In that situation, even in our weakest and sinful moments, he draws near to us as Emmanuel - God with us.

We don’t need to strive to have a perfect Christmas nor be crushed with disappointment when things don’t turn out the way we want them to. Our true identity is not in our hosting parties or well-coordinated family portraits. Jesus sees past the walls we build, He sees past our defences. He sees our inmost being and when we turn to Him, He receives us with open arms. Just like how He entered this messy world at his birth, He is with us in our mess at this very moment. He is Emmanuel. Just like how God noticed and valued those whom society rejected, He sees you, He knows you and He is with you.

This Christmas season we pray that you will experience the true Jesus, not as a portrait of a religious symbol but as Emmanuel.

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Deepa David

Deepa David skillfully juggles her various roles as a wife and mother of three kids. Her biggest role is to support her husband in ministry, bringing stability into a demanding ministry environment. She has a heart for underprivileged women and has served with commercial sex workers and women in situations of exploitation and abuse. She is also theologically trained with an MA in Christianity from SAIACS. She is joyful all the time and never tires of hosting people in her home.
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