To the editor:
News reports last week in both the Daily Journal and an Indianapolis newspaper featured stories about the baby Jesus gone missing from the crèche at the Indiana Masonic Home, about the baby Jesus’ equally mysterious return, and that now the baby Jesus has been fitted with GPS so that Jesus can neither go AWOL (absent without leave) or MIA (missing in action). Such stories beg for some responses.
First, in the interest of full disclosure, I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, perhaps eight blocks or so from the scene of the crime. Like the Indiana Masonic Home, our church has a crèche scene located outside the church. To much less fanfare, several years ago our baby Jesus went missing but never returned. We had to find a replacement Jesus.
Certainly there is some theological reflection to be done here, but I hasten to add that Jesus the Savior has not abandoned the building. It seemed that the baby Jesus was safe as long as our cat, Peanut Butter Cup, slept with baby Jesus. (Peanut was, for many years, more of an outdoor than an indoor cat and would spend many winter nights outside at his choosing, perhaps to guard baby Jesus and keep him company on cold nights.)
Second, it is important to know that two of the biblical Gospels either lost the story or were not particularly interested in the baby Jesus, skipping all the way to Jesus’ adulthood as Mark and John began their stories.
Of course, babies, one would think, are easier to handle, and while they do tend to cry a bit and are fully dependent upon others for their care, protection and feeding, do not tend to move far or fast on their own, or talk back to their elders. This makes them perfect for Christmas: They are equally content with lots or little presents, skip the eggnog and do not complain about the overlay of rampant consumerism (including commercials suggesting that you ought to hock your car title for a holiday loan), sappy seasonal movies and pathetic attempts at creating silly myths about elves, snowmen and romance.
Perhaps that’s why folks like to make sure Jesus stays in the manger, even if it takes GPS. Except for our Muslim friends, who cringe at the thought of God condescending to become a human being, baby or man, we tend to find the story charming and magical.
Jesus the God-man is another story. All four of the biblical Gospels admit that he is more problematic. He’s the real guy the Freedom From Religion folks of today and biblical times would like to see banned from the public square. Instead of being ignored as a baby by the religious authorities or the object of Herod the Great’s murderous jealousy, the very authorities of his own religion are, for the most part, unified in their outrage toward Jesus and some even plot — successfully — to have the Romans kill him in the most cruel and humiliating way. But that is the story of Good Friday.
Christmas is the Christian Church’s season (Twelve Days, just like the song) of celebration of the wondrous mystery of the Incarnation: God becoming one of us yet remaining Godself, the with-us God, the for-us God, the God who would not be AWOL or MIA, the God who would in fact do anything in order to be with and for his people, to love them, forgive them, redeem them and bring them home. The season begins with an angelic announcement and ends with some wise men from east of the Jordan River offering God’s gift of Godself to the world as the King bending their knees and offering their worship and treasure, showing that they are indeed wise.
One article reported that the Masonic Home folks were “desperate to keep the baby Jesus safe ….” I believe they got it wrong. What folks need to do is to find a way to keep themselves safe from the One who will not be kept in a manger and promises to turn their lives upside down. But I hope they fail. It’s the only way that upside down lives can be put rightside up and made whole.