Now’s about the time when Christmas-lovers and snow-enthusiasts around the country start checking the 5-day weather forecast, united in their hope that Christmas Day will be marked by a freshly fallen snow. I should know — I married a snow-lover.
I can still remember the sparks of excitement and the impromptu dances at windows and screen doors every few years as Cindi and our like-minded kids have made that happiest of realizations — that snow has fallen silently over the night before Christmas.
But for far too many years and decades and even centuries, another pure whiteness has silently descended on our Western church families, blanketing our Advent celebrations and our Christmas Eve services, not to mention our 52 other Sunday morning services throughout the year. For far too long, as America has diversified beautifully, Christmas in so many American churches has stayed far too white.
No one can deny that these United States are diversifying ethnically along with the rest of the West as globalizing trends draw the nations of the world into U.S. cities large and small. Business men and women, young professionals, reuniting family members, international students, refugees — the nations continue making their way to America.
But so often, even those churches centered in diverse cities and communities don’t reflect the growing diversity of their communities. Our Sunday morning services are usually far more mono-ethnic than our local high school locker rooms. The gospel Paul preached to the Galatians was capable of unifying Jew and Gentile in Christ, but it often seems that the gospel we’re preaching doesn’t do quite so well.
This is not a rant against whiteness or privilege or any other trope that an unfamiliar reader might be tempted to assume. I’m just trying to say what I’d like to think every true Christian believes: that the Son of God came into the world to save sinners from every nation under heaven, and that his church should be preaching the gospel in their communities and welcoming in repentant new Christians from every tribe and nation represented in their local demographic.
But this won’t happen — it can’t happen — where the church turns monocultural preferences into ecclesiastical principles, or when Christians have a subtle but controlling fear of other ethnicities, or when churches fall into thinking that any strategic effort to reach the nations in our own backyards must be tainted by some underhanded version of affirmative action. It won’t happen — and it can’t happen — wherever white American Christians have few meaningful relationships with people of other ethnicities.
So I’m dreaming of a day when no American Christian can see a Latino and wonder about their immigration status instead of their eternal soul, or see an African-American teenager with baggy pants and a hoodie and think danger levels instead of image-bearer, or see a Marlboro hat in a rural trailer park and think hillbilly instead of human dignity.
Even as Christians — sometimes especially as Christians — we’re so good at fearing the otherness of others. Whether due to religious pride or subcultural preferences or misguided ideas of “holiness,” we’re far too skilled at feeding that insatiable accuser who loves to sow malice among us, and if not malice, fear, and if not fear, suspicion, and if not suspicion, indifference. But what that devil never sows is gospel truth, cruciform love, and Christ-like impartiality — the kinds of truths and attitudes and relationships that create diverse gatherings, united in Christ, as far as the curse is found.
But if the line running to the Christ-child includes a Canaanite prostitute and a Moabite refugee and the widow of a Hittite warrior (Matt 1:5-6), and the line running from Christ enfolds members of every nation on earth who are blessed through Abraham’s greatest heir (Gal 3:7-9, 14, 26-29), then every church amidst a diverse demographic should be laboring to preach an undiscriminating gospel and promoting a kingdom culture that welcomes the nations of the world to repent from their sins, trust in Christ, and join together in worshiping the one true and living God.
Yet I am sometimes reminded that some Christians who ought to share this vision simply don’t. Many, whether stated or implied, and whether highly theological or atheological, seem to want their churches like they want their Christmases: as white as possible. Like Jonah, they can’t see that mercy to Ninevites like us is the heart of Abraham’s God.
Never mind that Jesus of Nazareth was a dark-haired, olive-skinned Israelite. Never mind that Mary and Joseph became refugees in Egypt. Never mind that the liturgy of the first Jesus-centered worship service was ordered around those eastern magi gathered with their Solomonic gifts. Some people just seem to want their church communities and their worship services to look as mono-ethnic as they’ve always looked — just like the ones they used to know.
The church can do better. The church should do better. And because Christ is our head, I’m convinced the church will do better. And what a gift to the world that would be.
Because the story of Christmas descended upon the world in a decidedly non-white environment, and because the first followers of our Jewish Messiah were told to take the gospel of peace from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and on to the very ends of our multi-colored earth.
Because of that story, because of that Savior, and because of that mission, I’m now dreaming of a multi-colored Christmas with my Japanese mother, my Norwegian-blooded father, my white American wife and her parents, our Ugandan son, and our three Rwandan children. And more than our own biological and adopted family, I’m dreaming of a Christmas morning in which a rising chorus from every tribe and tongue and people and nation joins with one voice to praise the incarnate Son of God, who came for us — all of us — and for our salvation.
This is why I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know. I’m dreaming of a far more colorful Christmas, just like the ones I pray local churches of Jesus Christ celebrate far more often in the years to come.
So Merry Christmas to you and yours, and may all your Christmases be brighter than white — lit with the light of the gospel and splashed with the colors of the nations.