Christmas and the Case of the Missing Manger


Yesterday, I learned that the manger for the children’s Christmas production is missing. Unless we find it soon, the Baby Jesus will have no place to “lay down his sweet head” when the children lead in worship on Sunday.

Now, lest I start a panic, let me convey that I have full confidence in our ability to find a home for the Christ-child. But it has me thinking. Does Christ have a home in Christmas?

At first blush, the response to this question seems plainly obvious. That is, until you start to press the issue. The Christmas season as we know it has become a mess of contradictions and mixed metaphors. Admit it. It’s flat-out confusing. We cannot even seem to agree on what holiday season we’re in—is it Advent? Is it Christmas?

Advent is supposed to be a season of waiting and anticipation for the arrival of the Christ Child on Christmas Day. Christmas Day, then, is supposed to begin the season of Christmas, right? If Advent is an exercise in waiting and delayed gratification, then we fail miserably at it.

“Why in the world should we wait for anything?” we wonder.

The story of Jesus’ birth suggests a season of quiet contemplation as Mary “treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” And yet, nothing is more chaotic and stressful than the month of December. We pack our calendars to the brim with activity, but in truth, we’re stretched thin and emit a strange odor that belies our commitment to hand sanitizer and our dependence on cough drops. By the time we arrive at Christmas Day, merriment is the farthest thing from our mind. It feels more like we’ve crossed the finish line of a marathon. Joy? Ha. We’re often exhausted and find ourselves near-to-comatose on our couches.

And then there’s the expectations. We know that it’s best for our economy if Santa delivers quite the haul to family and friends. We admittedly struggle with this as we reflect on a Holy Family that was in a starkly different income bracket than our own. We give gifts to one another (and score some great deals for ourselves while we’re at it!), but can’t really place our finger on the reason why. The Magi, we know, gave gifts to the Christ child—not to one another.

Christmas cards that we’ve saved from years gone by show snowy scenes and folks dress up like eskimos. But lately, it’s been warm enough to turn on the air conditioning while Santa gets down to business.

The truth is, the Christmas Season is not unique in its complexity and mixed messages. Life is complicated and full of contradictions. For the record, I don’t think there’s a particular animosity towards a Christmas “like the ones we used to know.” I think Christ has never been at home in our culture and in our world. He was born on the periphery to a marginalized couple in questionable circumstances (Oh, and the Law was after him, as well). Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

As a pastor, I’ve always found the Infancy Narratives to be a challenge to convey in the midst of the expectations that our world has laid upon it. For while the actual story feels "Christmas-y,” the lessons that we learn from the story of Jesus’s birth are decidedly out of step with the values of our current milieu. Each individual in our nativity scene tells us something about faith.

A messenger of God announces that God will come to earth in the most vulnerable way possible.

Mary rejoices that she will become part of a plan that will bring about the salvation of the world.

Joseph teaches us about trust, fidelity and obedience.

The Shepherds teach us about God’s dedication to the ‘least of these.’

The Magi show us what commitment, dedication and crafty-resilience look like.

Even Herod confirms our hunches about the tendencies of worldly tyrants.

Did I leave anyone out?

It’s easy to forget about Jesus, isn’t it? It’s even easier to forget about his adulthood and the things he taught and stood for.

John 14:23 reads, “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.” Maybe our goal this season should be to create space in our lives for God to make His home with us.

“Everything’s in place. Now, what did we do with that manger?”