December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

Missing Jesus?

Luke 2: 1-20

Right before Thanksgiving, a town about 20 miles from where I live, was getting ready to put up its annual Christmas Village display.  For 65 years, the town has been doing this. Christmas Village has lots of lights and Santa with reindeer.  It also has a life-sized manger scene. 

But when the workers began unpacking the manger scene, they discovered that the baby Jesus was missing.  At first they thought he had simply been misplaced, so they searched all the town storage areas but without success.  No baby Jesus.  He had apparently been stolen.

The stolen Baby made the news throughout Connecticut, and people came forward to offer replacement baby Jesuses or give money to buy a new one.  One woman had a porcelain figure that was about 18 inches long and just the right fit.  Baby Jesus was restored to the manger, and all was well.

I’ve been thinking about this missing Jesus ever since I heard the story.  It seems to me that the baby goes missing a lot these days.  We have more Christmas than we ever had, but somehow the baby seems to have gotten lost. 

The malls start with holiday decorations and sales right after Halloween.  Thanksgiving is no longer just for family gatherings and grateful feasting; it has turned into an occasion for shopping.  We are more and more consumed with Christmas and less and less attentive to the one at the center of it.  We have lost the baby Jesus. 

But we are not the only generation for whom this is true.  Back at the beginning, back in Bethlehem, a whole lot of those people missed the baby, too. 

Think about how God announced the coming of Christ into the world.  It was to a bunch of poor shepherds – unwashed, uneducated, unimportant.  They were the ones who heard the angel, they were the ones who went to see.  They were the ones charged with telling the news. 

But they had no power, no influence, no social standing.  Who would listen to them?  Why were they the ones entrusted with the news, the glad tidings of great joy?  Well, maybe the angels had announced God’s gift to a lot of folks that night.  Maybe the angels came to the priests and the professors, the rulers and rich.  Maybe the angels tried to get the attention of the mayor and the minister in that little town, or the shopkeeper or the doctor. 

But a lot of folks are busy, and it seems that the more important the people are, the busier they are, with lots to do, lots to worry about.  Maybe all the important people missed the message from the angels because they had too much on their minds, because they were too busy.  They certainly missed the baby Jesus. 

And the innkeeper, with the full house.  You can hardly blame him, can you?  What could he do?  There was just no room for even one more, let alone a man and a woman in labor.  But he might not have completely missed Jesus.  Maybe he was the one who directed that young couple to the stable.  The story is silent on the details but maybe he came back that night to see the baby.  Then again, maybe he just turned them away and let them fend for themselves.  Missing Jesus is an easy thing to do.

And there is another part of the story that we’ll read in a few weeks, the part about the wise men.  They came from far away, determined not to miss this baby. But they went to the wrong place.  They were looking for Jesus in a palace, among the kings and princes.  As the old song says:  They were looking for Love in all the wrong places.  They went to King Herod but there was no baby to be found there.  They almost missed him.  It was only when the angels directed them to an out-of-the-way place that they found the child and worshipped him and returned on their way home having found just what they were looking for.

So it is not just in our times when people are at risk of missing Jesus.  And just like the people in the little Connecticut town where Jesus went missing, we have a calling when that happens.  Those people offered their own Jesus to the town.  Have you ever thought about how you might do that? 

Deitrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who was imprisoned in a concentration camp in World War II and eventually killed there.  In some of the writings he left behind, he has this to say:

“A Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself. . . ..  The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s heart is sure.” (Life Together)

When you cannot find the Christ in your life, when Jesus has gone missing, then you need others around you who can share the Jesus they know.  And in a world where so many have no Christ at all, then you may be the only way they ever experience the presence of Jesus.   Be ready to offer Christ where it seems Christ has been lost.

I’ve seen a lot of people doing that in these past ten days.  In the face of unspeakable horror in another Connecticut town, friends and strangers have come together to mourn, to offer comfort, to be strong for those who are destroyed by grief and loss. 

It will never be possible to understand how so many little children and the grown-ups protecting them could be killed.  But God understands the heartbreak, God the Father who also lost a child, an only son, to violence.  And God in Christ is with us in all the dark and terrible places, coming through a touch and a tear, prayers and vigils, and a renewed commitment to peace.  God is not missing, Christ is not missing, because so many people have offered the Christ within them to those in need.

You know, they eventually found the figure of the baby Jesus that had been stolen.  Apparently, two teenagers did it as a prank.  The baby Jesus was broken in pieces and scattered in a wooded area.  

And in some way, that also seems like part of the Christmas story.  This baby who is born to us this night will grow up and live and teach and heal and love.  And he, too, will be seized, stolen from us, and broken. 

But that is not end of the story.  When we come to this Table, we tell the rest of it.  We hear his words: “This is my body, broken for you.”  And we know that this broken body is scattered in the world, through us. 

No matter how dark and difficult our world seems, there is good news of great joy for all people: “Unto us is born a savior who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  Christ is not missing, the baby Jesus has not been lost.  Fear not:  he is here in our midst, Emmanuel, God with us. 

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace and good will among all people. 

May it be so.

© Martha C. Highsmith

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