It seems to me that the church doesn’t always appreciate our greatest message, our moment in the spotlight of the whole world, the birth of Christ! We begin the season of Advent in the oddest sort of way, with screaming prophets, voices crying out in the wilderness, “Repent, repent…prepare the way of the Lord.” As if that is not enough, we hesitate to arrive at “Joy to the World” saying over and over to one another, “Wait, wait!” Christmas is not yet. Christ is not born in us today but surely and always tomorrow, when Christmas finally comes! We avoid singing Christmas carols, lest we proclaim that He is born too early and too often.
But it’s not only the uproar of the prophets and our fear of arriving too early. Perhaps we’re not really ever ready for Christmas to get here. With the disarray in our lives…shopping, spending, partying, family gatherings, traveling, and finally collapsing under the weight of our busyness. Are we ever ready to have our own Hallmark moments, the family holy round yon’ virgin mother and child? In all of the commotion of wild-eyed prophets proclaiming repentance and preparation of heart and our own halting spurts of pretentious preparations, we barely get to experience Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wise-persons, and a little baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes laying in a manger.
For many years now part of our family observance of Advent and preparation for Christmas is to set out the pieces of the manger scene, the crèche, a few figures at a time, as we all make our way to the manager. It had even become a tradition to tell the story of Christmas through the figures of the crèche with the children of the church I served. So every week of Advent, different characters arrived and the children, gathered around on the chancel steps, heard their story as we carefully placed them in our manger scene at the center of the altar table.
The crèche, a beautiful hand-carved antique, had been carefully put away the year before with all the pieces wrapped in tissue, placed in a shoebox, and stored on a high shelf. On that first Sunday of Advent, I took down the box and carefully began to unwrap the figures in preparation for their starring roles. Everyone was there: the angel, Mary, Joseph, two shepherds, three sheep, three wise men, and three camels. Even the manager was there. But no Jesus!
I quickly decided that since he would no doubt turn up long before I really needed him, I would keep this piece of information to myself. Perhaps following the advice of the angels, since I had not found him, I proclaimed it to no one! Over the four weeks of Advent, it would cross my mind from time to time and I would begin to look for Jesus. I looked around my office and the church, searching every place and even in the filing cabinet: Maybe he was filed under J for Jesus or C for Christ. But he was nowhere to be found.
Frankly, how could we have Christmas with no Christ? I couldn’t exactly find a reasonable stand-in at this late moment. And even if I could, isn’t that exactly what so many have preached against, leaving Christ out of Christmas in favor of gifts, gatherings, and greed? Christmas Eve came and I needed to find him and find him fast. Early on that morning I was in my office again, searching high and low for the little carved figurine, wondering if junior high shop classes qualified me to shape a new Jesus from the closest stick of wood.
Finally in absolute despair, I cried out, “I can’t believe Christmas has come without Jesus.” The frustration and the busyness of the season had overwhelmed me. At that very moment, the hand of God reached down to tip over the shoebox, not so carefully balanced on the edge of my desk. And there he was…wrapped in swaddling clothes of tissue paper, in the box exactly where I had left him. In all the commotion He wasn’t lost, I just wasn’t ready for Him to arrive.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help us in the season of Advent to truly prepare to receive you. Amen. -Darryll Rasnake From the Church Street Advent Devotion Book, 2013