Finding Jesus this Christmas

playmobil jesusIn the madness that can be the Christmas season, we act as though we could lose Jesus.  If everything isn’t prepared just right, if the gifts aren’t bought, if the family doesn’t look just right, if the manger isn’t just so…everything will be ruined.  Jesus will be lost and it’ll be another year before we can try again to welcome him.

Let me tell you a story…

My sister’s children have a Playmobil nativity set.  It’s provided hours of entertainment over the years.  As a family, we’ve enjoyed talking about the shepherds, having the wisemen follow the star, putting Mary and Joseph in just the right position, and making sure the angel went to tell the news.  There’s only problem… their Jesus figurine has been gone for at least four years.

The year we lost Jesus, everyone tore the house apart- we checked under furniture, in corners, in the Christmas tree, we even looked in the vacuum bag to make sure that he hadn’t been sucked up.  That year, I found an old, yellow Lego man at my parent’s house that I thought might serve as a stand-in.  I was told pretty quickly by the girls that he was not Jesus.  For months after Christmas, we keep up the search.  After all, what good is the Christmas story without baby Jesus?

Since that great and terrible event, their family has moved houses, and put up and taken down  decorations (and nativities) enough times that we’d given up on Playmobil Jesus.  Long ago, my sister called the company seeking a replacement- it turns out that you can’t buy Jesus (solo) either.  And every year when the set comes out, the girls tell the story- not just the story of Christmas, the story of how we lost Jesus…

Imagine my surprise when the above photo was texted to me last week with the line, “FOUND JESUS!!!!!!!!”  As my sister cleaned out her old sofa before donating it to Habitat, she found him.  Jesus had fallen deep into the sofa- had survived a move, and for four years, he’d been right there, sitting in the living room- with them all along.  In the hustle and bustle of living, even without their knowing it, Playmobil Jesus had been right by their side– in the middle of their home, year in and year out. 

That plastic Jesus taught me more than I ever thought he could!

Jesus Christ, came as one of us, for all of us.  He, (yes, like Playmobil Jesus) is in the middle of our homes and the midst of our lives already.  Whether we know it or not, he’s with us.  Whether things are perfectly ready or not, He’s been born.  No matter what our Christmas looks like, we have a God in Jesus who lived and died, and rose again for us.  Today we await the One whose coming is certain!

 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for  behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for  all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” ~Luke 2:10-11 

A Voice Was Heard in Ramah

This has been our church family’s Advent announcement this season:

He came to us, as one of us, for all of us.

This continues to be our short, memorable way of proclaiming the Incarnation, Emmanuel, God with us. Our Advent announcement is not a simple seasonal sentiment, however. God with us is NOT about, in Philip Yancey’s words, “a mellow, domesticated holiday” (The Jesus I Never Knew).

No. He came to us, as one of us, for all of us, WITH US IN ALL OUR PAIN AND BROKENNESS.

Just days ago, our seasonal preparations, along with many domesticated and sentimental thoughts about Christmas, were unexpectedly, instantly, and shockingly dispelled by the tragic shootings and multiple killings at Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School – children, teachers and school staff evidently killed by a troubled and disturbed young man. Many other children, thankfully, were saved, guided by their caregivers into hiding places.

The Christ Child, God in flesh, comes to be with us in a time and place that can be inexplicable and horrific.

Matthew’s Gospel reports that not long after our Lord’s birth, Herod, King of the Jews and the Roman Empire’s local henchman, was so alarmed by the visiting Magi’s report of a newborn king, he ordered the massacre of all children under the age of two (Matthew 2:16-18). Joseph and Mary, no doubt like many parents under Herod’s unholy rule, took their child and went into hiding.

escape-into-egypt-john-lautermilchIn reporting this horrific event, Matthew recounts the ancient words of the prophet Jeremiah: A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children …

“The Slaughter of the Innocents,” understandably, is not a biblical episode we lift up or see depicted on many holiday cards. Yancey again: “Jesus Christ entered the world amid strife and terror, and spent his infancy hidden in Egypt as a refugee.”

The world into which Christ Jesus is born is familiar with terror and tragedy. Our world. Born of a woman, vulnerable to the world’s dangers, Jesus is God with us as we watch and work for hope.

And thus our affirmation – He came to us, as one of us, for all of us – remains the heart of our Christian faith and Advent understanding. Especially now.

Receiving

“…remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” ’

–Acts 20:35

This Bible verse gets a lot of play this time of year- and why not?  In a season of giving, it speaks of selfless love and reminds us to remember the needs of others over our own.

But there is another side of the story, one that doesn’t get nearly the attention: and that is the message of the importance of receiving, graciously receiving that which we are given.

Receiving, I think, requires that we make ourselves vulnerable, that we open our hearts to those who would give of themselves to us.  For many of us, that’s a tall order, maybe too tall.  It is hard.  Frankly, it can be threatening to be the recipient. There are a number of reasons: we don’t think ourselves worthy, or we think so highly of ourselves that we want to always be the giver, or we don’t take the time, or we just don’t want to give others that kind of access to our hearts.

…But refusing to receive is a double tragedy.  First, we deny ourselves that joy of accepting, and reflecting on a gift that someone has taken the time and trouble to give, and second, we deny the giver the joy of giving.

There is truth to the scripture that it is more blessed to give than to receive- but, especially during Advent, we must remember that in the miracle of Christmas we were each given the most holy and precious gift of all: a Savior.  All we have been asked to do is receive it.  Will we?

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Bedazzled

They were terrified.

So says Luke of those shepherds: “abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night,” when the angel of the Lord appeared and addressed them, and God’s glory shone about them…

They were terrified.

We hear in the first letter to Timothy, that the Lord “dwells in unapproachable light.” The scriptural witness describes God’s glory, God’s visible manifestation, as overwhelming, as TOO MUCH FOR OUR HUMAN SENSES.

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Long ago, out in a dark field in out of the way Judea, God’s glory dazzles, blinds, and terrifies those shepherds, knocking them to the ground.

But God’s word picks them up and opens their eyes: “Do not be afraid… I am bringing you good news of great joy for all… born this day in the city of David is a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord… a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Later, after seeing the child with their own eyes, those shepherds, earlier cowering in terror, join the angelic host in glorifying and praising God. God’s glorious presence knocks them down, God’s glorious presence in the Christ child sets them singing.

The GLORY of God, incarnate, laid to rest in a cow’s feeding trough? Seems more befuddling than bedazzling.

And yet, this is the central and distinct affirmation of Christians. This “scandal” (the apostle Paul’s word) befuddles people long ago and today. Our scandalous conviction is that the unapproachable, incomprehensible, infinite and GLORIOUS God, beyond human senses and knowledge, comes to us as one of us.

Leonardo Boff states: “We Christians find the God of the Jewish, pagan, and world religious experience has become concrete in a man, Jesus of Nazareth, in his life, words, and comportment, in his death and resurrection… by seeing, imitating, and deciphering Jesus, by living together with him, we come to know God and human beings. The God who in and through Jesus reveals himself is human. And the human being who emerges in and through Jesus is divine.” (Essay, “The Man Who Is God”)

Tangible. Touchable. Born of a woman, laid in a manger, crucified on a cross. He comes to us, as one of us, for all of us. Glorious. Dazzling.

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