Rethinking the Meaning of Christmas through Everett Patterson’s “José y María”

For a few years now, I’ve been admiring a profound image created by illustrator Everett Patterson, whose “José y María” you may have seen before. In the unlikely case that you haven’t seen it, here it is.

“José y María” by Everett Patterson.

As you can see, it’s a re-envisioning of the birth of Jesus Christ, asking us to consider what Joseph and Mary might look like in today’s world. They are portrayed as Hispanic immigrants, with José using a public phone outside of a convenience store, probably looking desperately for somewhere to stay. It’s fun to notice at all the biblical references. Here are a few: María riding a mechanical horse and wearing a Nazareth High School sweatshirt; the words “word” and “flesh” written in graffiti under the horse; advertisements for “Weisman” cigarettes, “Good News” chocolate bars, and “Starr” beer on the window; the sticker of the dove on the window; the advertisements for “Shepard Watches,” “Glad” and “Tide” in the newspaper on the ground; the crown over Dave’s City Motel in the distance, along with the missing A from “manager,” creating the word “manger.” There are a few others that I haven’t mentioned, but Patterson refers to them on his page.

The colors are quite washed out, giving a pessimistic view to this unfortunate couple, who find themselves with nowhere to stay in the middle of a storm. The glimmer of hope, however, comes from the plant in between José and María, just starting to shoot through the crack in the sidewalk.

Great art makes us think, and this image makes us rethink what it means to be a Christian. All Christians know the story of Jesus’s birth, but how many of us are indifferent to the plight suffered by immigrants today? Jesus himself spent time with people on the margins of society, and in the Gospel of Matthew he calls his followers to care for the hungry, sick, the imprisoned, and the stranger. If we truly care for the “least” of our brothers and sisters, Jesus tells us, we are also showing reverence and love for Him. The last thought I have on this work is that José and María are quite possibly the two most common Hispanic first names. How many other Josés and Marías are there who could also use our help today? It is inconsistent with Christian doctrine to lack sympathy for immigrants.

Everett Patterson has an online shop (on Etsy) where you can find posters and Christmas cards of “José y María,” as well as prints of his other works. Find the shop by clicking HERE.

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