“Auntie Sarah, baby Jesus is missing from our manger scene.” It was my niece, face the shade of almonds–the one that never misses anything, but she was missing this.
“Oh, yeah? Really? Where’d he go?” It is true, I wasn’t fully listening; a list of to-do’s plugged my ears and numbed my heart, and I was deaf. And aren’t so many Christians deaf to this truth–that it is sometimes US, those that are supposed to HAVE Him, that are in fact missing Him?
“That’s just it; we don’t know. He’s missing.”
“Who?” That was me, asking who when she’d already told me. “Jesus?” And isn’t it true that so many of US, that are supposed to KNOW who, forget WHO this season is about?
“Yes, Auntie! He’s missing from our manger scene.”
And like waking from one of those falling dreams, I felt I’d hit the floor; truth had her foot to my throat. Because we lose Jesus at Christmas, don’t we? We never mean to do it. But somehow, though He is the centerpiece, He becomes small.
Her ceramic Jesus was missing from the nativity. Jesus missing at Christmas. Of all the pieces of painted porcelain, how could one lose the focal point? Why not a shellacked sheep or shepherd? But Jesus? Lose Jesus?
Growing up, Jesus was a really big deal in our home at Christmas. Every year, four scraggly sisters and I took turns tipping our toes and stretching arms to reach the mantle top where we placed a member of the milk-white nativity my mother displayed on a stable floor made of black velvet scrap spread across the thick cherry wood. Jesus was shorter than my pinky finger, a tiny figure in the manger scene, but mom never lost Him. He was always present, when she pried back the old cardboard storage box and unwrapped tissue paper padding, waiting to be placed up high for all to take in.
He’s there this year too, in a blanket of ceramic straw atop the same midnight velvet on the same mantle. But that’s not really the Jesus she never lost. Hers is the living Jesus, the one who reigns in her heart–the one from whose offered cup of living water, she’s awoken early every morning of my life to drink. And in my haste to accomplish and make progress, I’ve thought more than once that perhaps for just one day she could suspend her routine. Why must she always start with Him before anything else? How many times as a child I recollect waiting for her to finish seeking Him first? My mom always kept Jesus where He belonged.
But when my honey-haired niece told me she was missing Jesus, I swallowed hard the glob of doughy truth. I miss Him too–miss Him at every turn. He’s not just in the stable, or on the mantle, he’s in that sweet girl’s chocolate cheeks, in my boys’ laughter squeaking like a clarinet in a beginner’s mouth, He’s in the strong back of my husband when he carries a patient from home to ambulance to hospital. He is present when my husband and a fellow fire-fighter drive home, and the car a few feet in front is stopped dead. It was Jesus whose hands cushioned and buffered as their vehicles miss by inches, and though my husband’s hands shake, His remain steady. Jesus in a manger; Jesus on the highway. Jesus in the ambulance. Jesus in the kitchen. Jesus at the office. Jesus in school.
God with us.
He’s everywhere, and I miss Him.
And Herod too missed Him, hunted Him, wanted to destroy Him, had babies murdered in an attempt to eliminate him, but how can one destroy what they cannot see? And Herod couldn’t see. Because eyes can be 20/20 while hearts are blind. Herod hungered for the worship of mankind, and I hunger for autonomy in my life, but I can’t have it both ways. I must choose–no one can serve two masters. And come now, how many of us want it both ways–especially at Christmas?And if I want Jesus, I must choose to lay aside my agenda long enough to notice Him, to drink from His living water.
John said, “Prepare the way for the Lord,” (Matthew 3:3b) and I wonder if I have prepared the way for Him this Christmas season.
The Jesse Tree
The Christmas Tree
The Birthday Cake
The Nursing Home Visits
The Elijah’s Closet Toy Ministry
Surely I’ve made the season about Him, haven’t I?
But Jesus isn’t in a list; Jesus IS the list. John said prepare the way for Him because it is HE who IS THE WAY for life. And when the Hebrews used that word, way, they meant a well-worn path, a dependable route. It is He is that well-worn, that dependable route. He is the firm footing for my fluttering size eight feet must fix themselves on. He is the box that holds all the great gifts, and yet, like the drum set your thirteen year old boy wants for Christmas, He is unwrappable, uncontainable.
My weary eyes have read a thousand tales telling me I need new things this season. An Echo, a Iphone 10, an Instant Pot, a red toaster because black and stainless are not nearly as pretty anymore, Christmas sweaters knit and pearled by some machine that can’t give life. The flyers faint with the weight of all the stuff. And how can my life be so full and yet, without Him, it is empty? Because in Him is fullness of joy.
Joy is found in the Christ of the manger, the lost centerpiece to which everything our soul truly desires is firmly fixed.
“You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.” (Psalm 16:11)
I can’t help but think how many Christmas sermons I’ve heard, how many devotions I’ve read, and my mind is saturated with their refrain, but I desire to be squeezed free of the myriad of mantras, like confetti crowding my mind, so that I can see clearly. See just Him. Just Jesus.
Is He really worth all this fuss? Does He really make a difference? Does it really matter if he is present or missing this Christmas? That’s a question worth asking. Does Jesus make a difference in the painful places and spaces we reveal to no one? Does Jesus make a difference when he tells you he’s leaving and the vows you took were somehow disposable? Does Jesus make a difference when the diagnosis is terminal, and the other children still get to run and play and live? Does HE?
Tell me, fellow followers, is it true? Is there really absolute joy–absolute–in His presence? Sheer delight? Really? Because if that’s true, than it is no wonder my mother, body aching in exhaustion with the raising of five girls by herself, woke each morning with the sun to greet her Jesus day after day, year after year. She met with Joy. She met with delight. She still does because in Him she has found the fullness her soul hungers for.
Errands took longer than I hoped this week, and I treated the boys and myself to a quick bite at a fast food spot. When I got home, I couldn’t even get the groceries inside before I ran for glass and water. Thirsty. Junk always leaves you thirsty. So do the other paths in life–they leave us soul thirsty, a condition beyond parched.
And I have drank from rancid wells in my life, but this absolute joy is not that kind of cistern. The Hebrew word literally means satiety–the condition of being satiated. To be satisfied.
Just to be satisfied. That in itself would be such a gift this season. And my thoughts agree, “Yes, to be satisfied in my marriage, in my home, with my physical appearance, with my children’s progress in school, with our lot in life, with….”
No, I am the way.
In My presence is absolute/fullness of joy.
I give sheer delight.
Your soul longs to be satisfied in ME. ME alone.
Already I missed Him. Started hunting for wise men and shepherds. Satisfied with this, content with that. There is no satisfaction apart from the baby in the manger, the person of Jesus. He is the way to satisfaction. Satisfied with Jesus can be a permanent condition when all other things will drive me to further thirst. Everything else is a Dead Sea, and like a flopping fish my life will float to the surface because joy doesn’t survive in salted waters.
When Mary, mother-to-be arched her back in labor pains, the inns were filled with travelers on their way to be counted. But they weren’t counting on Him, were they? And Jesus would not be born among the counted because you cannot count Him. You cannot contain Him. You cannot contain the kind of satisfaction, of joy He grants. It is infinite. It is satiety.
And I see that it is not He who is missing; it is we who are missing Him.
It is not just this season that He desires to be seen. It is not just this one month, when carols call His name and candles are lit, when mistletoe is hung and hearts are tender, that He pours out living water while we swallow eggnog instead. We are always swallowing that which will eventually swallow our souls while Living Water is packed into a cardboard box, covered in tissue paper, and placed back in our attics.
He came that we would have life abundantly, more than just life in December. His Kingdom is in our hearts and Peace can reign all our days, if we drink from His cup. Jesus on the mantle, all year. Never lost because He is never removed from His rightful home. And all the world’s a stable and wherever I go, the manger is before me. Jesus while I fold five thousand loads of laundry, Jesus while I rejoice over a miracle for my Aunt, Jesus while I weep over the separation of body and soul of a boy so young, Jesus while foreclosure court dates loom, Jesus when children leave for college and choose spouses, Jesus when our husband is deployed, Jesus when our children struggle with addiction, Jesus when our body fails us. Jesus.
Jesus, remaining on my mantle this year because “Better is one day in your courts, than thousands elsewhere.”(Psalm 84:10).
Days ago I woke slow and on my way to coffee, I stopped to look out the backdoor. An indigo bunting perched on the naked arms of some spent shrub in my garden. She was like a wild blueberry that somehow survived harvest just for this moment. This moment when I stop and see Him. Jesus dropping in for coffee and living water. Jesus saying, “I am the way, I am here. I am joy. Do you see me wearing clothing you can understand? Do you see me perching my creativity for your pleasure?”
And I do.
Jesus, teach me to slow down more, to lull and pause, to wait and wonder, to anticipate your appearance. Teach me to seek You in the nativities of my life. Teach me to discern when I am drinking from salted wells instead of your living water. Thank you for clothing yourself in the form I could understand, the human form. Let me live the Christmas season all year long. Amen.
Jesus. On all the mantles of my life. All year.