On Monday morning the figures were taken out of the crib and put into storage for the year. When this was done a year ago in our church, it would seem that the Christ figure somehow got lost.
Perhaps it was so carefully put away that those responsible forgot where they put it. Another possible explanation was the packet was mistaken for rubbish and thrown out. A third possibility was that it was stolen or perhaps one of the children picked it up and took it home. Whatever happened, in the packing up it went missing and could not be found in 2015 when putting up the crib.
We have come to the end of the Christmas season and for many, this signals packing up Jesus for another year.
These people move on without Jesus in their lives. The Christmas story of Jesus being born in Bethlehem seems to be relevant and is acceptable; God coming among us as Emanuel; shepherds coming to adore the new born child. And even the story of the wise men from the East attracts many. We can deal with God being with us as Emmanuel, so to speak, for three weeks, but we don’t have the stamina to go any further.
Instead of journeying with Christ from childhood to manhood during the year, that is the end of it. Christmas is a fleeting moment rather than a permanent orientation. With the crib, the lights and the other Christmas decorations we pack Christ away for another year.
How do we do this? I illustrate this by developing the three possibilities for the lost Jesus figure at the Cathedral.
The first scenario was that the Jesus figure was carefully packed away and that we forgot where we put him. We can handle the child Jesus, because we are in control. But when it comes to the adult Jesus it is another matter, as his teachings challenge us to respond and put them into action. Now Jesus is in control. Mary faced this from the beginning when she met Simeon and Anna in the temple at the presentation. (Luke 2: 25 – 35).
To Mary was granted the blessedness of being the Mother of the Son of God. Well might her heart be filled with tremulous, amazed joy at the privilege. And yet that very blessedness was to become a sword to pierce her heart. That very glory was to break her heart. She was blessed and her very blessedness meant that one day, she would see that Son of hers hanging on the cross.
To be chosen by God so often means at the one and same time a crown of joy and a cross of sorrow.
The piercing truth is that God does not choose a person for ease and comfort and selfish joy, but for a great task that will take all the head, and heart and hand can bring to it.
Rather than face up to working with this Jesus, which means journeying to Jerusalem to the scene of the cross, I can put him aside; hide him where his teachings can’t bother me. With Jesus out of sight he is out of mind.
The second possibility was that the Jesus figure, was by mistake, thrown into the rubbish. In this age of world globalisation with its thrust on getting ahead at all expense, the teachings of Jesus can seem out of place.
When money becomes an idol, it commands the choices of man. And thus it ruins man and condemns him. It makes him a slave. The message preached by Jesus of love; forgiving those who hurt you; loving your neighbour, being fair and treating all equally, is so contrary to the values of globalisation that to be politically correct, I assign the gospel to the rubbish. The message of the gospel may be alright in church.
But it has no use in the economic world and it is best cast aside.
The third possibility was the child figure was stolen. Where is Christmas celebrated?
Of course it is celebrated in church, but businesses have taken over many of the Christmas images and use them to advantage too.
Lights, candles, Christmas tree, decorations and the giving of gifts are prominent in many shops leading up to Christmas. Many retail businesses certainly profit from the Christmas spirit. And then no sooner is Christmas over, then it is onto St Valentine’s gifts and within a short time it will be hot cross buns and Easter eggs.
It would seem our feelings can be manipulated and advertisers can encourage consumption by exploiting family nostalgia and or fear of loneliness. Businesses like our banks did well to prepare Christmas boxes for elderly and those in need. But how do those in need get through the next 11 months of the year?
Churches certainly need to get back to doing what we can do best. It’s great that others can work alongside us and help us in making Christ known. Otherwise the danger is that Christ is stolen and used for a purpose that is far removed from what he came into the world to achieve; that is to show us that God loves us.
Christmas, then, should not be reduced to a fleeting feeling of a few weeks. It should be a solid and permanent orientation that I have to keep alive for the rest of the year. It has to be an effective behaviour that translates into action.
Otherwise, I am like the shepherds and the wise men who were alert and read the signs of the time to know that the Saviour had been born in Bethlehem. But then they disappeared from the gospel story and are not heard of again. What happened to them? They are a one-day wonder.
For many of us now, it is back to work. The visiting relatives from overseas have already left or are about to depart. Perhaps the home now feels empty. It is most probably much quieter. Now we can settle back into the routine of ordinary life. For example NCEA results have arrived this week and decisions have to be made about long term education futures. Other children are starting to think of the new school year. There is excitement for those who will soon experience their first day at school.
It is into this ordinary life - work, retirement, education or whatever, that I have to bring Christ. He is not to be put into storage for the year. Nor is he to be hidden, lost or allowed to be stolen. Remember that Jesus lived for something like 30 years, obedient to his parents in the village of Nazareth.
Like Jesus, I cannot despise earthly ties. I have to discharge them with fidelity. Jesus was not only found in the temple and the synagogue.
He went into people’s homes like that of Simon and Andrew and cured Simon’s mother in law.
That evening the whole town came crowding around the door. On the door step he cured many people with diseases and demons. Mark 1: 29 – 34.
Allow the same Jesus into our homes and work places and allow ourselves be amazed and astonished with what he can do for us. It is a matter of seeing His hand in our daily lives.
How do we do it?
Perhaps it can be as simple as depending on the Lord for small daily help, like the whispered prayer. “Lord what do you want me to do now?” “Lord help me find my car keys.”
Bishop Paul Donoghue