Posted by: pberry | December 27, 2008

Has anyone seen the baby Jesus?

Growing up, my wife was a thief. For at least one day a year anyway. Within hours of her mother setting out their hand-carved wooden nativity scene, Amy would sneak in and swipe the baby Jesus leaving an empty crib subject to much adoration from a cast of barn animals and humans.

The first time I asked Amy about this, she got that cute look in her eye. “Jesus didn’t come until Christmas,” she explained. This was no attempt at rebellion on Amy’s part. From the time she was a young child this was an act of reverence. For Empty MangerAmy, it is the proper celebration of advent (or perhaps the proper story of Israel) to wait for Jesus’ arrival in the manger scene.

I love this woman.

We tried pulling the same stunt at work one year. There was a nativity scene in our chapel area (which doubled as a lunch room). We snuck in, swiped the baby Jesus and placed a note in the manager: “Don’t rush me! Be back Dec. 25th.”

Advent 1. Premature celebration 0.

Advent and Lent get trampled over in a lot of evangelical circles. Some Christian groups who take pleasure in demonizing Catholics and high-church protestants gloss over these holy days without fully realizing their significance. Advent and Lent are times of preparation and anticipation. They get us ready for the most incredible celebrations on our calendars. The church I group up in emphasized self-examination leading up to communion. I think these holy days are just as important. They lead us to remember a time when the people of God waited for a Messiah to save them much like we wait for one to come again.

We prepare for roughly seventy days to celebrate for two. Even if you celebrate twelve days at Christmas (and I’m planning to again this year) you have ten weeks of anticipation for two weeks of celebration. Perhaps we need to celebrate more. Or maybe this is the story we find ourselves in: lots of preparation, lots of anticipation, not as much celebration—even for those of us with something to celebrate. Even with the resurrection of Jesus, the resurrection life he offers to everyone now and the hope of his return to renew the world, it is clear that there is still much that isn’t right with the world. Lent and Advent remind us to prepare ourselves, to make right what we can, and to hope for his coming again to put right what we do not.

But for the next few days, Jesus’ arrival is celebrated. A baby has arrived to a big angel band and shephards quiting their jobs to come see him. Scholars travel from distant lands to see him. And we celebrate with awe and wonder at the gift of God to us:

Himself.

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