Yesterday’s New York Times has an article about a rash of thefts of the baby Jesus from public nativity sets around the country. It’s gotten so bad in some places that folks are getting clever with cameras, glue, tethers and such – to prevent the thefts. It’s an interesting phenomenon to ponder. Who would want to steal Jesus? And why? And more importantly, why would you want to prevent them from doing so? No wonder the Christian church is struggling for members. Jesus is kept locked up, chained, under cameras, hidden in the church even, so no one can steal him. The symbolism is all wrong. Can you really steal Love?
It’s been almost three years since we went with a group of pilgrims to the Holy Land. The day we were scheduled to arrive in Bethlehem there was a knifing on the street near our hotel. They delayed our arrival until it could be dealt with and we were told to stay close to the hotel which was right next to the church that surrounds the cave where they believe Jesus was born. Bethlehem is on the other side of the wall that surrounds Jerusalem – the West Bank. Conflict is a frequent visitor.
The next day we visited the Church of the Nativity which was under renovation with scaffolding and plastic. The path to the cave was clear and we joined the line of people who had come from around the world to see the place where Mary had given birth and “laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn”. There is a spot on the floor that is marked with star and one by one we knelt to touch it and give thanks. Thousands, millions, have come to touch that spot and give homage to one who would carve the path of Love for us to follow – to show us the way.
I wonder if that is the same impulse, though likely unconscious, that drives people to steal the baby Jesus. Perhaps a prank driven by a deeper desire that we all have – to be known and loved as Mr. Rogers used to say: “just the way you are”. Here in a small baby, and actually, in every baby I have ever known or held, is the power to melt hearts and see the infinite and respond in love.
Jesus would go on to challenge us to be a different kind of people – generous, open, aware, present, loving, compassionate, peace-filled. He revealed the universal Christ – the anointed One – supersaturated with Creative Love poured out for all. It is a costly gift that we all have been given. Our challenge is to live into and become that love, to continue the spread of it.
Later we visited the fields where the “shepherds watched over their flocks by night” and shared communion. The lambs and shepherds were not far. Angels were present, too, in the company we shared. We took Jesus home with us, but we were not thieves. We carried him in our hearts and I literally carried him home in the olive wood creche sets I bought for our grandchildren.
One of my favorite stories is the Wizard of Oz. It’s probably the movie I have viewed more than any other in my life (watching it on TV numerous times as a child). It’s a traveling movie, as Dorothy is carried into a world she does not know, and travels through many challenges before she learns that what she needed to get home was with her all along – those ruby slippers.
Soon, we will travel far from home to another part of our planet. There will be some challenges and adventures, and I look forward to encountering the living Christ along the way. He is like Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Always present in us, through us, and around us (whether or not we are practicing Christians – Love is part of our spiritual DNA). Perhaps even more importantly I hope we have the opportunity to give Jesus away in the form of kindness, compassion, love and peace to those we encounter.
As far as I’m concerned, go ahead if you need to– steal Jesus. He’s extremely valuable for Life. And there is plenty of him to go around.
Christmas blessings to all!