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Well, Epiphany has come and gone and my epiphany is that it will be Christmas in July by the time I finish this thing, but we soldier on:

Some Children See Him

Words: Wilha Hutson
Music: Alfred Burt (1951)

I’m proceeding with caution here because I may step on some toes. Even though I am putting this song in the “bad” category, I do not consider it an act of evil and I am reserving my true bile and invective for the next two songs.

I just have some concerns. Let’s start with the lyrics:

Some children see Him lily white,
the baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see Him lily white,
with tresses soft and fair.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heav’n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
with dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
this Savior whom we kneel beside.
Some children see Him almond-eyed,
with skin of yellow hue.
Some children see Him dark as they,
sweet Mary’s Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they,
and, ah! They love Him, too!

The children in each different place
will see the baby Jesus’ face
like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
and filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering,
come worship now the infant King.
‘Tis love that’s born tonight!

This song is one of 15 Christmas Carols written by Alfred Burt between 1942 and 1954. Collaborating with his father and later Wilha Hutson, these songs were mainly sung by family and friends until the year of Burt’s death, when they were recorded on an LP. The family tradition was that each new carol was accompanied by an original Christmas card.

Now, I have no doubt of the sincerity of Burt and Hutson’s sentiment in this song. The idea that people of different races and ethnicities see the baby Jesus as looking like them was probably a generous and magnanimous concept to the dominant culture in 1951. How wonderful, while we Europeans see a white baby Jesus with blonde hair and blue eyes, African Americans see him as one of them, and so do Asians, and Latinos.

I have two problems with this. First of all, it perpetuates the idea that we can make God (in this case His only begotten Son) into our own image. The truth is, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in the Middle East. Yes, if you follow the miracle of a virgin birth, he was implanted by God but he was born of Mary, a middle eastern Jew. There were no cameras back in those days, so we don’t know what he looked like, but it’s doubtful that he looked like H.B. WarnerJeffrey HunterMax von SydowTed Neely, Robert PowellKenneth ColleyBrian Deacon, Willem Dafoe, Jeremy SistoJames Caviezel, or Jack Black. He also doesn’t look like what my friend Susan Isaacs called “the kind, Norwegian looking Jesus” that hung on our walls in the 60s or the hippie from the 70s and 80s. As one of my friends said back in the early 00s, Jesus probably looked more like Osama bin Laden than we care to think about.

OK, Joe I get it. You think the White Jesus is stupid at best and hegemonic at worst. So what? Get over it. It’s Christmas for Christ’s sake! Or it was a few weeks ago.

Yeah, maybe I’m taking the whole thing too seriously, but not seeing Jesus as a real person from a real part of the world makes him less…well…real. It’s the same thing as my second problem with the song (and it’s a problem shared by tons of Christmas songs, even some that I like), keeping Jesus in the cradle. Praying to the “Baby Jesus” like Will Ferrell does in Taladega Nights. A baby Jesus or a Jesus who is just a fictional…hmm…dare I say Avatar…keeps him safe. Following Jesus is not a safe thing to do, not really. And that comes from someone who, at this point in his spiritual life, struggles with the idea of whether I can really follow Christ right now. It ain’t easy folks.

Keeping Jesus little and cute and safe and nice and Norwegian or whoever you want him to be keeps us from taking what he said seriously.

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6 thoughts on “The 12 Bad Songs of Christmas: #3

  1. I see what you are saying here, Joe. The One who created the universes with word and breath, and continues to keep it all together despite our worst efforts decides to limit His being into human form. Why waste a song on ethnicity!?
    But even more, that people would feel better by “seeing him” in their own likeness is backwards. We were created in HIS likeness, not the other way around. The point is that the way we are like God has nothing to do with ethnicity.
    Hey, if you want to identify with Jesus, that is a hard road. Joe, I understand its tough. Actually its impossible. And the closer you get to God, the more impossible it becomes, so just a heads up: This is going to seem like the good ol days compared with whats ahead. (But VERY cool stuff up ahead too!)
    That you understand that perhaps makes you that much closer to His calling in your life than some people with “perfect” lives. (The old camel and needle eye thing) Don’t give up. Pray hard instead. And keep praying. He will guide you in perfect peace down the impossible road.

    (And this sermon ends with Ray Boltz’ We Will Stand slowly crescendoing…)

  2. I find this such a strange argument. Especially when the last verse of that song, indicates exactly what you’re trying to point out, Joe. Look closer at all the lyrics before you badmouth a good and provocative song.

  3. The point is not that children, in all their innocence, and with their ability to trust, are ‘creating’ God in their own image. It has more to do with them connecting with Jesus in the only way children do. The lyrics do not say “some adults see him. . . ” While adults are more prone to creating children see the world as they are. Lighten up and quit trying to see a demon in every corner.

    • I promise you that I’m not looking for demons in this song or any other (except maybe ‘Grandma Got Run Over’), just some very human questions I have about the song. But I thank you for reading it and commenting.

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