By Father Casey

A few nights ago my family watched Jingle Jangle, a holiday musical on Netflix about a magical toymaker and his brilliant (and show-stopping) granddaughter. It’s fun entertainment, and I recommend it, especially if you have kids.

It’s part of what Netflix calls its “Representation Matters Collection,” which highlights shows that feature or were created by people of color. I have to admit, having grown up in the 1980s, it is an unusual experience to watch a movie with a nearly all-black cast, because there was essentially no such thing when I was a kid. Even now, productions with such casts are still newsworthy (I’m thinking of Hamilton, for example).

Afterward, as Melody and I talked about the movie and the whole idea of a “Representation Matters Collection,” it dawned on me that I can’t recall reading any books as a kid that featured a girl as the main character. I think that’s probably true for most boys. When I would go to the library or bookstore, the suggestions always featured a boy as the hero, because the assumption was that boys wouldn’t (or couldn’t be expected to) read about the lives of girls. So, nearly all the entertainment I consumed as a kid featured white boys as the lead, which leads me to wonder how my imagination was diminished by that absence.

As a father of daughters, I am grateful for the wide array of new media that celebrates women and girls, as well as all the effort being made to elevate people of color into lead roles rather than perpetual supporting characters. Because representation does matter. When we see people who are like us doing great things, it shapes how we see and imagine ourselves. We realize our identity has significance and our feelings are important. Our lives have dignity and worth. And it helps us begin to conceive new possibilities for our lives.

Friends, this is the Incarnation. God knows that representation matters, so God became like us. “The Word became flesh and lived among us,” and not only to rescue us from sin and death, but also to help us see new possibilities in our own lives. By assuming a human life, God hallowed the entirety of human existence. And by living that remarkable life of love and mercy, God hoped to reshape our imaginations and help us realize what we are capable of, too.

I know that we are celebrating Christmas differently this year, and the long shadow of sickness and death continues to linger over our world. Yet, for as much as we are sacrificing this Christmas in order to keep others safe, the fundamental truth of the Incarnation retains all its power: God has come among us. Heaven came down to earth and earth was drawn up to heaven. God became like us, so we could comprehend how to become like God,[1] which is why it is more than sweet sentimentalism that draws us back to the manger each Christmas. It is the chance to glimpse the ultimate example of representation matters: Emmanuel, God with us.

[1] This idea is quite ancient. Saint Clement in the 2nd century wrote, “The Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god.” And Saint Athanasius in the 4th century wrote, “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divinization_(Christian)