In preparation for tonight’s service, I looked back through some of my meditations from Christmas Eve services past. Many of them dealt in some way with the absence of the baby Jesus from the nativity scene. A couple of years I talked about how very few scenes have a detachable baby Jesus; in most, he’s literally one with the manger. Last year, I relayed the startling news of a rash (no pun intended) of baby Jesus thefts. A security company found a creative solution to the problem: GPS. Attach the GPS to Baby Jesus and, if lost, he could be found with the touch of a button. While shopping at an antiques store this week, I saw another great image: In the two nativity sets the–detachable–baby Jesus was tied–with twine–to the manger.
In relating these stories, I was suggesting that our obsession with the Baby Jesus–making sure he’s present by hook, twine, or crook–was a sign of just how desperate we are to know for certain that God-with-us is really with us. In today’s climate of cynicism and waning faithfulness, losing Jesus seems a real possibility. Then I would point out that “Ta Da!” our Baby Jesus was present in our nativity set. On Christmas Eve, God-with-us really was with us. You could see him!
But this year? This year feels different. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read a friend’s post on Facebook. The post began: “For all the parents whose mangers will remain empty this year….” Then I knew what was so much harder about Christmas this year–welcoming the Christ child when so many children were taken at Sandy Hook School on December 14th. Suddenly all the concern about ceramic and clay baby Jesuses and their precise locations just didn’t matter anymore…. What’s a simple figurine in the face of such devastating loss?
When children are lost–especially through violence–what does God-with-us even mean? Where was God on December 14th in Newtown, CT? If God chose to come dwell with us, as John says, but can’t protect the most vulnerable among us, then what good is God?
I debated about whether to bring up the school shooting tonight…I mean, it’s Christmas Eve, right? We’re with family, here to celebrate the familiar story, sing the well-known carols as we bask in the glow of candlelight. If there’s any time to escape from the madness of the world, it would be tonight, right?
But God-with-us isn’t about hiding from the world, its unfairness, its cruelty, its pain. God-with-us is about God’s deepest desire to be with us during every moment of our lives–the joyous ones marked by the warm glow of candlelight as well as the difficult ones marked by unimaginable violence and grief. Sometimes human beings choose to do horrific things to each other. The Connecticut School shooting has to be among the most horrific. And when those things happen, God wants nothing more than for us to realize that God IS there, heartbroken, weeping, standing ready to comfort and–in time–to heal.
(Take out baby Jesus.) It’s just a piece of ceramic. He’s been resting under the pulpit all Advent. I thought briefly of not bringing him out this year as a way to honor the lives that were lost a week and a half ago…but then I realized that, this year more than any other perhaps, we need the Baby Jesus. Yes, it’s just a piece of ceramic, but what this small figurine symbolizes is crucial for us–especially this year. Placing the Baby Jesus in the nativity set, setting him there between Mary and Joseph in the little building covered with straw attended by wisemen, shepherds, and animals…it’s a real reminder that God-with-us has come, indeed has been here all along. Whatever we’re feeling about the school shooting–anger, fear, hopelessness–God is with us. Whatever we’re feeling about our own lives–God is with us. Whatever we’re feeling about the world–God is with us. That is the message—and the reality—of this night: That of all the things God could choose to do, the deepest desire of God’s heart is to be with us….no matter what.
(Kim takes Baby Jesus to the nativity set.) “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. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it….And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Thanks be to God!