The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
When I was 18 years old I had one of those rare moments in faith – where the connection between you and the Divine God of the universe seems so concrete, so near. I remember closing my eyes in prayer and seeing a face, mostly vague and blurry but for warm brown eyes. For me in that moment, those were the eyes of Jesus. Human eyes that saw me. Human eyes that had cried. Human eyes that had closed in sleep and death and prayer. Human eyes that had stayed open though long nights. Human eyes that had sent their piercing, knowing gaze towards Peter as he denied for that third time.
James Cone, a theologian who talks about blackness and persecution and liberation talks about an Ontologically Black Jesus – a Jesus that understands the lived experience of people who live life in black bodies in our contemporary Western wold. A Jesus who sides with the oppressed and the marginalized. It is a Jesus not whose skin is definitely black, but a Jesus who understands the struggle and gives his life in the name of freedom.
As I began to study the intersections of fatness and theology, an ontologically fat Jesus was on my brain. It did not come easy – the first time someone showed me a picture depicting a fat Jesus* I recoiled, I said, “But, very likely, historically, he was not fat.” But why did I recoil? We don’t know what Jesus looked like.
My recoil was not about historical accuracy, it was about painting Jesus with a flesh that looked like my own – a flesh that was round and soft.
A flesh that people describe as excess.
As too much.
As worthy of shame.
But the prophet foretells the messiah who “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”
And so in this season of advent where we wait for the one who will put on flesh and dwell among us, I remind myself that in all those ontological ways, he put on fat flesh. He understands the small and great injustices that one is met with when living life in a fat body. He understands and sides with the marginalized. He sides with me. This word that came to dwell with us, full of grace and truth has harsh words for those who would seek to tell people that one must be thin in order to properly serve God. He sees my flesh and my heart and my eyes with compassion and with an understanding of the wounds that are inflicted on those who life life in a body deemed less than by the power structures.
So come Emmanuel, God with us.
Come and bring your truth into our systems of oppression.
“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity . . . Light and life to all He brings!”
*My favorite images of a fat Jesus come from Colombian artist Fernando Botero. You can see some of his paintings depicting the stations of the cross here and in this video. From what I know of Botero, his reasons for painting a fat Jesus and my reasons for liking it are different, but I’m thankful that this artwork exists in the world!
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