Manger Jesus is safe.
I think that’s why Christmas became more popular than Easter. That and free stuff under a fir tree.
Christmas and the image of baby Jesus are non threatening. Sure, we sing carols about how a King was born, but even a nominal Christmas/Easter church attender knows that he wasn’t a “real” king, he doesn’t have armies and a castle of stone with a moat. Jesus in the manger doesn’t make people uncomfortable. He is a cute baby in swaddling clothes. So warm and cuddly.
Jesus on the cross isn’t like that. That’s where he took the pain we deserved. It gets personal. Being born, that’s cute. Let’s eat cookies and sing carols. Being whipped to a bloody pulp and nailed to a tree to hang until you die, then turning the world upside down by coming back to life… all so you and I could once again be reconciled to the creator of the universe… Well, that’s a bit more. It’s not safe. It requires a reaction from us.
So I can understand why some people could have been disturbed by the depiction of Jesus on the cross, Jesus being whipped, bloody and hurting Jesus, in our recent Christmas production.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not “Passion of the Christ” level of blood and violence. It’s more TVPG violence. I felt comfortable having my sheltered, homeschooled 9 year old watch. I had my 6 year old close her eyes. We didn’t have the skill, time or budget to really recreate the horrible violence Jesus Christ suffered for each of us. We did a good job with what we had, and I was pleased with the final result of the footage. It’s took almost 2 hours to get the makeup done for the scourging scene. This cross scene is some of the most powerful imagery I’ve ever shot.
Lots of churches stop the story at Christmas with the wise men bringing their gifts. And I don’t fault them for it. That is the story of Christmas. Other churches tell the entire life of Christ. Because Jesus didn’t just stay a toddler getting some gifts from the Magi. He had a greater purpose. When sharing the gospel in Christmas productions you can talk about that purpose, or you can show it. We chose to show it.
I’ve been to a lot of church productions that put a guy in white shorts/loin cloth on a cross and we pretend that’s what Jesus looked like. It’s not. A cursory read of the biblical accounts would show you that’s wrong. A closer, more in depth look at the torture and execution methods of the day would shed more light on the gruesome visage of our savior, willingly dying on a cross for us.
I think people who are upset by violent reminders of what the Lord went through for us are mostly upset by being reminded of it, not about seeing it. I was “disturbed” by scenes of Mary in labor. My first reaction was that I wished we hadn’t included that. When I stopped to think about it, I realized it was because I don’t really think about the fact that Mary had a normal child birth for the time. It was the immaculate conception, not immaculate delivery. It made me uncomfortable.
People don’t want to come to a Christmas show to be made uncomfortable. They want the warm feelings and carols. But the story of Christ doesn’t stop at the manger, it ends with an empty tomb. The path from manger to tomb is disturbing. If we choose to show it, then we must choose to do so as accurately as we can. That means there will be some disturbing images, not for the sake of showing violence, but to remind us of what our salvation cost.