When she was still alive, my mother in law had a picture in her house that frequently drew “under-my-breath” comments. It was of a very good-looking man from North Central Europe, with flowing dark blond hair, blue eyes, and aquiline nose set in a positively beatific face that gazes slightly to the side with an expression of deep concern.
This character is wearing nice robes, but he's obviously from an earlier time in history, even though the painter managed to get the light on his face just right. I noticed that he appears to be the same guy who shows up in lots of other, more modern paintings where he's praying with his elbows propped on a boulder; knocking on a door; holding a small sheep; petting children on their heads; and even dressing for a safari. He's clearly not Hispanic, so I'm guessing all the references to “Jesus” that seem to appear with such paintings must refer to the painter. I don't believe that the scenes are old enough to have been painted by Jesus Soto, so I'm guessing that he's relatively obscure, outside of this particular genre.
Anyhow, since I've never been able to figure out who this guy is, and a lot of people have pictures of him hanging around, I like to call him “Steve.” It sounds really friendly. I was at a church yard sale a few years ago, and they had a very large picture of Steve that no one wanted. It matched the one that I inherited from my mother in law, so I took it and called it “Big Steve,” so we can distinguish it from the smaller picture that I keep at home. Big Steve is a lot o of fun, since we can put him on the walls at work and sometimes move him around, in order to keep him in our conversations. He has such an intense look on his face, that it's really easy to lighten conversations by pointing to him and suggesting that “Steve is concerned” about whatever the other person is doing. Sometimes, we can even place interesting items in that location that Steve seems to be staring at all the time, and ask ourselves whether Steve is really concerned about them.
Is all that a bit over the top? Maybe, but I'm a bit of an iconoclast and it always bothers me when I see someone making a graven image, even a perceptual one, and declaring that their particular image is supposed to be significant to me in some way. I can appreciate that some things have deep meaning to other people – there are many things to which I attach special meaning, as well – but it troubles me that people can insist that those things that they find meaningful must also be found meaningful in that same way by all other people. Jesus Christ might appear to be a First-Century Palestinian Jew (which he was); bear African, Asian, or other regional features; or even look like Steve to some people, and they might find quite a bit of meaning in that. I tend to see him more often in the faces of refugees, addicts, the poor and hungry, the angry, the sad, and anyone else whose life is troubled. Again, that's just me, and I understand why others might not be comfortable seeing him that way.
As we head for the final week of Advent, we are looking to celebrate the love of parents for their new baby, as well as God's love for us all. We might come to view the season in a variety of lights, depending on which image of the baby we have in our minds. It's an important part of the narrative, and I don't know that I would want to change that. Still, in the back of my mind, I can't help but think that all of us are guilty of redefining the life and significance of this particular child's birth to fit our expectations. We build entire seasons around recognizing those things, and Advent through Christmastide is about the longest. If the fourth week of Advent is really about love, can we not find some time in it to merely celebrate the love of two parents for their baby? How about allowing ourselves to love that baby also, just for who he is and not for what we hope he can do for us?
Maybe that's what Steve is thinking about, after all.