I noticed one day that the baby Jesus was missing from the arrangement and looked all around the table for the piece, with no success. Later that afternoon, a mother who had visited my office called and apologized because when emptying her toddler’s pockets, she discovered the baby Jesus. The child must have been playing with it and put it in his pocket. I told her to let him keep the baby Jesus figure because when I bought the set I got two (they were really inexpensive). A few years later, however, Jesus went missing again. Sure enough, this time he was discovered in the play purse of a little girl who visited my office with her parents.
Truly, I think this says something more about the human drive to possess what is mystery, than the kleptomania tendencies of young Presbyterians. Even children want to hold Jesus. They could have had any one of nine other plastic figurines, but they took Jesus! Jesus is recognized even by children since they look at the world with their hearts as much as their intellect, and hence often see what is most important.
In so many ways this is why Advent is so special: it provides us an opportunity to stand near the manger – to stand near the mystery of Immanuel, “God with us.” This is a season of great spiritual opportunity. It is a good time for reflection as we celebrate the birth of Jesus with family and friends. It’s a time ripe for growth in the things of the Spirit: joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
But Jesus does not desire for us to put him in our pocket or purse. No, Jesus desires our hearts, minds, spirits, and strength. Jesus wants to be in our relationships with others. Children may know the great mystery of Jesus and desire to possess him. But do we desire that Jesus possess us and by the great mystery of God’s irrational love toward humanity, come to us once more? Not as a child celebrated in a manger but as the returning, glorious Son of Man.
Matthew tells of Jesus sharing the mystery of his second Advent. “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31)
The truth of the Christian faith is that it is best celebrated in tension between a child lying in a manger and an innocent man hanging on a cross. You see, the line from these two points extends in infinity into the mystery of what we cannot possess but by the grace of God. God’s Kingdom is coming. God’s reign will increase until all know Christ as Lord. It is both a great and terrifying reality, and it is good news. Like innocent, expectant, awe-struck children, let us celebrate the mystery of Advent with our eye on both the manger and the cross.