“Baby Jesus is gone!” That is the gist of a text I received last week from a member of the congregation I serve. You see, our congregation sets up a life-sized nativity scene in front of the church every year. And, until this year, everything has been cool. But last week, some whooligans knocked over the shepherd and the donkey, the sheep and the cow and the wise men. Strangely, they left Mary and Joseph standing. But they stole baby Jesus. Baby Jesus was gone.
At least for a little while. I drove to the church to check out the carnage for myself, and on the way back, I discovered baby Jesus, standing on the side of the road. The whooligans had carefully set fiberglass baby Jesus against a fence, so he was standing there, with his little baby Jesus hand raised, as if he was blessing the passing traffic. So, of course, I picked him up and put him back where he belonged, in the manger at the church.
The next day, I got another text. Baby Jesus was once again gone. This time, someone else had found him. This time he was a little farther from the church. But just like the last time, baby Jesus was standing, carefully leaning against a fencepost, once again blessing the passing traffic. Thankfully, the person who found him put him back where he belonged, in the manger at the church.
The day before yesterday I got another text. Baby Jesus had again gone missing. This time, the whooligans knocked over all the figures, caved in the head of the poor, defenseless lamb and threw it over a fence, into a pasture. And we still haven’t recovered the missing baby Jesus. We haven’t been able to return him to the place he belongs, in the manger at the church.
Now, I’m fairly certain the whooligans were probably just letting off the tension of the season in a totally unproductive and antisocial way, something I never did when I was their age (cough, cough). But I have been struck by that image of the baby Jesus, leaning up against the fence, moving progressively further away from the church, and blessing the passing traffic. I can’t get it out of my head.
Probably unintentionally, the whooligans have made an important point. Ever since baby Jesus first went missing, I have become semi-obsessed (OK, unhealthily obsessed) with catching the perpetrators. I’ve set up a game camera. We even had a “stakeout” operation set up with the next door neighbor last night. I’ve been so preoccupied with getting baby Jesus back where he belongs—in the manger at the church—that I may, possibly, have been missing a larger point. Maybe Jesus would just as soon not lie around in a manger at the church. Maybe he’d just as soon be out there blessing the passing traffic.
If we’re not careful, we in the church can make our faith ABOUT the church. We can start thinking that the church is where Jesus lives. We can make our faith about coming to church, the place where Jesus is, on Sunday mornings, and spending the rest of our week out in the world, where Jesus isn’t. And that’s just wrong.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. John 1:1-3. Jesus doesn’t just live at the church. He doesn’t just belong in that manger at the church. Through Christ, the world came into being. Through Christ, WE came into being. And through Christ, we are enabled to live new and beautiful lives not just after we die, but right here and right now.
And when we live that sort of born-anew life, Christ lives through us. He lives in our words, in our actions, in our lives. Jesus doesn’t want us to just leave him at the church. Jesus wants us to take him with us out into the world of our friends, families, and communities. And maybe, just maybe, he wants us to stand by the side of the road, blessing the passing traffic.