A few weeks ago, I followed with some interest a thread of a conversation about the baby Jesus. It was not a discussion about the theology of the Incarnation, no. It was a whole series of stories about how the baby Jesus from people’s nativity scenes went missing, and what they used to replace him.
It started, I think, with Heidi, who was moving an old, OLD couch out of her house and discovered the baby Jesus wedged down in the frame of the couch. The baby had gone missing when her twin boys were very small—and they are both doing graduate degrees now. Someone asked what she’d been using all these years, and she admitted she was using a cheap replacement Jesus she’d found used someplace.
That led someone else to confess that she was using a macaroni ornament in hers, because she, too, had misplaced her baby Jesus.
It escalated, the stories getting funnier and more absurd, until one friend posted a photo of a dog with a sign around its neck. A sign that said the dog had eaten the baby Jesus! That is not quite what we mean by communion, Fido!
This is my fifth Christmas with you all, and there is still always a moment of confusion just before the service when someone looks at the nativity scene and gasps, “Where is Jesus?!” And after 17 years of priesthood, I still take impish delight in saying, “He’s right here” as I pull him out of my pocket.
I wonder, though, if there isn’t some deeper theological meaning to it all. How often do we settle for a substitute Jesus? One who remains perpetually a baby, tucked away in a manger, taken out of his box every Christmas only to be stored in the attic the rest of the year? How often do we lose the real thing, and try to replace him with something else? How different might the world be, if we spent less time with him in our pockets, and more time in our hearts?
Somewhere along the way, a few people got wind that I was considering following this thread, and started sharing things they’d found on the internet. Which leads to the second part of this sermon—the part where I am reminded that it’s about more than just knowing where to find Jesus.
Someone shared a video of a children’s Christmas pageant at some church somewhere. A pageant in which the lead characters were played by very—VERY—young children. Mary couldn’t have been more than three.
The video opens with an angelic children’s choir singing “Away in a Manger” as Mary, Joseph, the angel, and various animals, were kneeling at the manger, gazing with pious innocence at the Christ Child lying there. As the music swelled, little miss Mother of God realized people were watching her, and…well, she liked the attention. So she stood up, took the baby Jesus out of the manger, and started dancing with it. As three year olds do—holding Jesus by the arms and swinging him around as she turned in circles.
Thank GOD the role of Baby Jesus was played by a doll!
She was thoroughly enjoying the reaction she was getting. But Joseph, a slightly older child, was not amused, and tried to get Mary to put the baby back in the manger. Mary wouldn’t comply. So there was a bit of a chase and a tussle as they fought over who got to be in charge of Jesus. Mary was not at all interested in sharing Jesus.
I’m sure that whatever parent first posted the video did so out of amusement. Look at the funny thing that happened in church last week. I’m sure that the person who sent it me was only offering me a little laugh in a busy week, and didn’t expect me to include it in my sermon this evening.
But there’s something to be learned from this one, too.
The point is not just “having” Jesus. It’s “sharing” Jesus. Not in some pushy, knock-knock-knock “Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior” way. But in the little, small things we do for one another, friend or stranger. It’s about the letting the light of Christ shine out into the darkness, so that others can take comfort and perhaps even be drawn to it.
There is a name for Jesus, one we only tend to use at this time of year. Emmanuel. A name that means God-with-us.
We come together tonight to renew our hope, our faith in that God with us. But if we leave Jesus here, we’ve missed the message. It’s not just God-with-us every December the 24th, and we’re on our own the other 364 days a year. It’s God with us in every moment of our lives:
God with us, as we welcome loved ones to our celebrations.
God with us, as we grieve the loss of those who can’t be here this year.
God with us, as we laugh at the funny stories of Jesus, lost-and-found.
God with us, as we cry at the news of devastation in Indonesia.
God with us, in every moment of our lives, whether we notice God’s presence or not.
Take this hope, this faith, out to the world. Share it with everyone you meet by being kind, and loving, and forgiving and patient. Remember that the special name is not God-with-ME, but God-with-US. Look for Christ in every person you meet. Then it won’t really matter if you’ve lost the baby Jesus from the Nativity scene. Because everyone who looks at you will see the love of God, which is the whole point of the Incarnation we celebrate tonight. God’s love, born among us, for us, so that it can be born in each of us to be shared with the whole world.