It was 1941. Faced with the task of writing about the day many Americans loved to celebrate, Israel Baline (otherwise known as Irving Berlin) began to compose his song. There was only one problem. Irving was Jewish. Christmas was completely foreign to him. Yet that did not stop him. With marked determination, he continued to toil over his assignment.
In his book, Stories behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas, Ace Collins explains what happened next: “As Berlin worked on his Christmas Song, he considered what he did know of the holidays. As a New Yorker, when he thought of the season, he pictured snow and Santa. Yet as he spent many holiday seasons working in Los Angeles, he was well aware that for many, what made the atmosphere of Christmas special was more of a nostalgic dream than a reality; across America, everyone wanted that perfect white day when ‘treetops glisten’ and children anxiously await Santa’s arrival. “
Berlin was unsure whether his new song, “White Christmas” was a show stopper and considered scrapping it. After further contemplation, he decided he should share the song with old friend Bing Crosby first. Bing loved it and convinced Berlin not to change a word.
Crosby first sang the song on his December 25, 1941 radio show. Perhaps because it was a sober Christmas, just three weeks after the United States had been forced to enter World War II, the performance generated instant response. In late summer, Decca released Crosby’s “White Christmas” as a single. With thousands of soldiers far from home and longing for the familiar sights and sounds of the holidays – the song topped the charts for twelve weeks. The tune went on to win the Academy Award for the best song of 1942.
Over the course of the next twenty years, Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” landed on the charts fifteen more times. It hit number one again in 1945 and 1946. Crosby’s version eventually sold more than thirty million records and spawned a successful motion picture of the same name. “White Christmas” was an American success!
Theatrics and Theology: Not a Good Mix
Sadly, the American dream of a “White Christmas” goes far beyond theatrics entwining itself into our theology. In other words, the songs meaning (as beautiful as it is) does not fit into the Scriptural message. What do I mean? Having a “White Christmas” is not just about snow. It goes much deeper than that. Think of how American’s view Jesus. What race is He?
Starting to get the picture?
Our “white” version of an American Jesus has spanned generations and crossed denominational lines throughout the country and around the world. Subconsciously Americans have superimposed their version of Jesus into the hearts of minds of hundreds of millions. You see, our “White Christmas” is whiter than we think!
An anonymous blogger eloquently pointed out: “What we do with our visualization of Jesus (and God), is a metaphor for what we also do with our theological interpretations of Jesus (and God) – we remake them into something which is palatable and consistent with our own notions of truth, justice and beauty…The message of the Incarnation is that we must set aside our ethno-centric and cultural-centric filters and attempt to see and hear the truths which God has set before us to see and to hear – truths which transcend the often tragic and sometimes idyllic realities which define our lives and our times.
Perhaps stepping outside our northern European visualizations can be a first step in our journey to apprehend the truths of Jesus of Nazareth.”
And apprehend Him we must! But not with a twisted visualization that runs contrary to the Scriptures. We cannot “remake” Jesus in a similitude and likeness that we are comfortable with while disregarding the true ethnicity of the biblical Jesus. What was His race? The Samaritan woman (and thousands of others beside) clearly understood that Jesus was “a Jew“ (John 4:9).
The Jewishness of Jesus
Any honest student of Scripture acknowledges the Jewishness of Jesus. He was circumcised the eighth day (Luke 2.21), bore a common Jewish name, Yeshua, ‘he [God] saves’ (Matthew 1.21). In fact, Yeshua was the fifth most common Jewish name, 4 out of the 28 Jewish High-Priests in Jesus’ time were called Yeshua. He was raised in a Jewish home, with individuals whose linage went back to Adam himself (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). Jesus not only spoke Greek, but the Jewish language (Mark 14:36), read the Hebrew Torah and Haftarah in synagogue customarily (Luke 4:16) and spoke about yod v’kotz hel yod – the Yod and its stroke (i.e., “jots and tittles” KJV), indicating the meticulous attention He gave to the Written Hebrew Torah text (Matthew 5:18). He was recognized as a rabbi. A Pharisee, a Sadducee, a Roman, and a Gentile-all referred to Jesus as “rabbi.” (John 3:2; Mark 12:19; Mark 10:20; Matthew 22:35-36; Luke 19:39; Luke 20:27-28, etc). Jesus often quoted the Jewish Sages (Matthew 5:21-48) and alluded to “the traditions of the elders” (Matthew 15:1-20).
In his booklet, Jewishness & Jesus, Dr. Daniel Juster states:” [Yeshua] lived out the true meaning of Judaism. He loved and celebrated the feasts – the celebration of Pesach (Passover) was one of His last acts before His death” (pages 28-29). The list of Jesus’ Jewishness could go on and on.
As a Jew in the first century, Jesus would look more like….
Starting to get the picture?
Could we embrace such a Jesus? Would Americans accept an olive-skinned Savior? A Jesus that is not….white?
Let Us See Jesus
As we approach this Christmas season, please don’t let images of a Hollywood Christ take root in your mind. Consider the Holy Child of Scripture instead. Forget traditional depictions of your American Savior – the pale, skinny, effeminate Jesus with white skin, long flowing brown hair and piercing blue eyes. Embrace the olive-colored Man from Nazareth who left heaven and clothed Himself with flesh, suffered and died on the Cross.
If you need to visualize Christ consider the picture the prophet Isaiah painted.
“His appearance was so disfigured
that He did not look like a man,
and His form did not resemble a human being—” (Isaiah 52:14)
3 He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like one people turned away from;
He was despised, and we didn’t value Him. 4 Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses,
and He carried our pains;
but we in turn regarded Him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities;
punishment for our peace was on Him,
and we are healed by His wounds. 6 We all went astray like sheep;
we all have turned to our own way;
and the LORD has punished Him
for the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet He did not open His mouth.
Like a lamb led to the slaughter
and like a sheep silent before her shearers,
He did not open His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:3-7)
Starting to get the picture?
Ethnicity died on the cross when Jesus was murdered. He was so marred, so disfigured, that no one was able to recognize Him – no one was able to tell if He was Black or White, Asian or Hispanic. The only color they saw was red.
Have You Experienced the Real White Christmas?
Maybe you’ve been misinformed about the true meaning of Christmas. Maybe you’ve walked around with the American dream but have never fully accepted the reality of what Christmas is all about. You see, it’s not about Christmas trees, sharing gifts, or opening presents. Those are fun things to do, but the reality of Christmas is not in them. Christmas is all about Jesus coming to this planet to fulfill all the righteous requirements of Scripture, suffer, die and be raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
Jesus was born to die. That’s the Christmas story. And the only way you can have a real “White Christmas” is by turning from your sins, asking Jesus to forgive you, and embracing the Blood Sacrifice Jesus shed for you on the Cross. You must be born again. Christ must be Lord and Savior of your life.
Are you willing to embrace a bloody Savior? If so, your sins will be as “white as snow.”
“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)
Now that’s having a “White Christmas!” That’s what a “White Christmas” is all about!