As Epiphany closes the Christmastide once more, a few incidents stand out in my mind as symbolic of the current state of the church and our faith in the present day:
- At a hotel where I stayed this week, a manager was giving instruction to her maintenance crew — at full voice in the lobby: “I want every decoration down and stored. I want Christmas totally and absolutely GONE by the end of the day!”
- Two gentlemen were taking the nativity scene down from in front of a local church. There was a plastic bucket sitting on a wheeled cart. One of the men grabbed the plastic baby Jesus by his ankle, tossed him underhand, and deposited him headfirst down into the bucket.
- Another crèche scene obviously outlived its usefulness — the church put it on the curb in a jumble of bits and pieces, Mary and Jesus and animals and shepherds and wise men stacked with broken boards and tufts of hay. Hand-lettered on a piece of ripped cardboard was the question for the trash collectors — “Recycle or Trash?”
Sometimes gestures indeed speak louder than words. In homes all around the world, baby Jesus figurines have been wrapped up in tissue paper, placed in shoe boxes and stored on closet shelves. The question rises, are we doing this with more than just our nativity scenes? Apparently, if you watch the news or observe people treating one another with hostility and contempt, many of us have put away Jesus spiritually and emotionally as well as physically. For many, Christmas is OVER. We’ve tossed Jesus in the bucket. We are unaware that there is a subconscious question on the fringe — will we recycle our relationship with God in a meaningful way or leave it on the curb? Yes, I am being glib, but there is a serious undercurrent to these reflections.
An infant was born who changed everything for all time. Even for people who choose not to believe that Jesus was the one true Son of God, it is inescapable that our world is impacted by the babe of Bethlehem. But has familiarity bred contempt? Are we so jaded by Christmas after Christmas that we are content to put Jesus away for another year? I have a nativity scene Jesus that I keep out in my office all year round — I never put him away. Symbolically, I just can’t. Practically, leaving him out means I can’t ignore him. I see him every day. He never let’s me alone. I kind of like that — a relentless Jesus who is always present. But is that what we all really want? 24/7/365 Christmas is exhausting, isn’t it? I mean, what would our world be like if it was Christmas every day? Terrible, right? An inescapable, dogged, ubiquitous immersion in the light and love of God? Yuck, right?
I challenge everybody to get Jesus back out of the box. Go ahead, store the rest of the nativity set, but get Jesus out. Put Jesus somewhere where you cannot possibly NOT see him. It is a mustard seed gesture, sure, but it is a start. I hate the idea that Christmas comes and goes, that it is over and done. I hate the idea that we put Jesus on display for a few weeks, then store him with the “other” ornaments. Most of you will probably think this is silly, and you may be right. I just think the world can use a little more “real” Jesus, and any reminder of that is a good thing.