Christmas Eve 2019 (Luke Birth Narrative)
So, last year I did a horrible, no-good, very bad thing.
I lost Jesus.
Actually, to be more precise, I didn’t just lose Jesus; I threw him away. I mean, who does that?! It was an accident, of course. I was giving the Children’s Sermon in worship one Sunday last December. The little baby Jesus that came with my nativity set at home was perfect for the illustration I wanted to use. When the morning was over, I packed up the baby Jesus, wrapping him securely in tissue paper to keep him safe (or so I thought) and then placed him in my tote bag with a million other things I was carrying that day. When I got home, I set the bag down to take care of later, while I tended to some other things, and forgot about him.
Later, in the rush and bustle that comes just before Christmas, especially if you are a pastor, I was cleaning up the pile of things I had placed aside to “take care of later” over the course of that week. I cleaned out the tote bag holding Jesus. Not remembering that he was in there or why I had a wadded-up piece of tissue paper in the bottom of my bag to begin with, I threw the tissue – and Jesus - away. It wasn’t until a few days later, after the trash had been taken out, and after it was picked up at the curb by the garbage collectors, that I realized what I had done!
I was horrified! How could I have thrown away the little baby, Jesus?! For the rest of the season, our nativity at home sat there, the manger empty, a reminder of my carelessness. The figure of Mary in the nativity set has her hands positioned in such a way that the little baby Jesus figure could be held in her hands or lain in the manger – but Mary’s hands remained empty as well.
I love to have my nativity sets out this time of year, but I can tell you I was actually relieved when I got to put them away at the beginning of January 2019. I was relieved when I boxed up that set – and stored it for the year. But I couldn’t quite forget about what I had done, and what I was missing.
Whenever I thought about the discarded baby Jesus I always felt a bit sad and guilty. I Googled “replacement baby Jesus”, I searched on eBay, and I even checked out Amazon.com to see if I could find a new baby Jesus.
Oh, there are Jesuses out there, let me tell you, but none of them was right. None of them would fit both the manger and Mary’s positioned hands the way the real, the original, baby Jesus did.
At the beginning of Advent this year, we put up our Christmas tree and pulled out the Nativity sets. As I set up my favorite set, the manger and Mary’s hands looked just as empty as I remembered them.
I searched on the computer again, to see if maybe now an appropriate replacement could be purchased anywhere. Finally, I located the company through with the original set was purchased. On their website they had other items you could buy – more shepherds, some animals, a Holy Family set, even a stable, which the original set does not have. But no Baby Jesus.
I did, however, find an email address for the company, so I wrote them explaining what had happened and asking if there was any way I could purchase a replacement Baby Jesus. They never wrote back. After a couple of weeks, I was getting ready to reach out to them again when, on my day off from work, I happened to stop by the office to take care of something. There, I found in my mail, a simple red box with the name Three Kings Gifts written all over it.
I opened the box and found – a brand new baby Jesus. There was no note, and there was no invoice. Just Jesus. The company had sent me a new Baby Jesus as a gift. I was so excited, so happy, relieved and joyful, I happily told everyone I came into contact with about how I had received this wonderful gift from strangers, a new baby Jesus. I think most of them thought I was nuts.
As I look back on my story, it seems to me to be so full of metaphor and allegory for our relationship with Jesus.
God gave us the perfect gift in sending the baby born of Mary whose birth we celebrate today. This gift of pure love, of peace, and compassion and mercy comes into the world and enters our lives and our world is never the same again. As John records in his gospel in one of the best-known verses of the Bible, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to save us, that we might have eternal life.
At some point in our lives, whether as children or perhaps when we are older, we learn or we grow in faith enough to understand what an awesome and holy gift this is. It is a gift we treasure. It is a priceless gift we could never barter for or buy.
But sometimes we get careless with this gift. We take it for granted. We forget what a treasure it is. It may seem silly to get so bent out of shape about losing a little Jesus statuette. But the hole I felt in my heart in its absence is symbolic of the hole in our hearts and lives when we lose sight of our relationship with Jesus.
The people of Israel had lost sight of their relationship with God. Their world became a dark and foreboding place, so much so that for 400 years God was silent. He did not speak to them nor did he send a prophet to them (the way God usually communicated to them). Their yearning for God to send a Savior was intense. Finally, God decided to answer the longing of His beloved once and for all. And Jesus Christ was born.
This Child, Jesus, is the embodiment of God’s love and God’s mercy for a lost world. Without Jesus it is we who are lost. Without Jesus it is we whose lives are incomplete – lacking the essential goodness and light that make them worthwhile.
The sad thing is that there are times which are heartbreakingly real when it seems that Jesus is missing from our lives – when we forget about the treasure that we have in the Child born in Bethlehem. Sometimes, the loss happens through carelessness and the busyness of our lives – we cease to make time and space for our relationship with Him.
Other times, we become so distracted by other things in our lives that we “throw him away” not realizing what we are doing. In yet other ways, we fill his place in our lives with other things, figuring we’ll get back to Jesus later, or that it’s just not as important as we thought. We decide to take care of our relationship with him later. But then time has a way of passing in the blink of an eye, and the more distance we create in our relationship with our Savior, the more difficult it is to find our way back.
The thing is, though, that Jesus – the real Jesus – is never truly lost in the first place. It is impossible to throw Jesus away.
Jesus is there all along, eagerly seeking a crack in the shell we put around ourselves, so that he, our light and our life, can enter in, and fill all the dark corners and shadowed places of our lives.
Even in those times when we feel like we lost him, Jesus is really closer than ever because he never stopped loving us. God assures us through this babe born in Bethlehem, that the powers of the world will never overtake us.
Just as there was a spot in my nativity scene that I know only the “real” baby Jesus could fill, there is a spot in our lives that only the real, true, living and divine Jesus can fill.
In the end, I was willing to pay any price to have Jesus returned to my nativity scene. But, just as we learn in this story that takes place on a starry night in a little town called “Bethlehem”, he came without cost because he is priceless; he came as a lowly one born in a stable because he came to fill up the empty ones and lift up the lowly ones; he came among us as the precious gift of God, who seeks to give good things to His beloved.
Beloved of God, this Christmas, may you rediscover, cherish, and share this priceless treasure, Jesus Christ the Lord. And then, may you share and sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven – and peace to all on earth.”