Even as adults, nativity scenes – crèches -help us pause each season to make the familiar scene our own, to envision the appearance of a baby who is the Son of God.
In Washington DC, we lived near a Franciscan monastery that every Christmas set out an enormous nativity scene. The figures were life sized, a bit chipped from years of service, but still glowing with bright paint. The shepherds gazed. Joseph knelt. Mary bent low. Alarmingly, the baby Jesus was chained to the manger.
Baby Jesus was chained because every year, in every place, the baby Jesus is carried off from manger scenes. Out of his mother’s arms or his comfy manger bed, sometimes never to be found again. It happens so often that there is a Wikipedia page for “Stolen Baby Jesus.”
This situation is not taken lightly in Franklin, Indiana. Baby Jesus disappeared from the crèche of a Masonic Retirement Home there, this past December 5.
Jesus reappeared five days later. Not wanting to take any chances, a security company installed a GPS tracking device in Jesus. If that Jesus goes missing again, they will be able to hunt him down.
You and I – who come here to hear the story behind the scenes – know that the real Jesus can’t be kept in the manger by means of chains. He won’t be bound by any power, any attempt to keep him in one place. He won’t cooperate with those who want him to remain harmlessly sleeping.
You and I – who know the baby will grow into a man who will turn tables, affront leaders, disrupt politicians and expect his followers to come up with food for 5,000 – we know we don’t need to attach a GPS to be able to track Jesus down.
You and I find Jesus all the time, in all sorts of places. Although, if we are honest, it is often where we were not hunting him down.
Where’s Jesus? He’s out in the rain and the cold with those who find Christmas dinner hard to come by this year, who might not remember when they had their last real meal, who are watching their children wither with malnutrition anywhere in the world.
Where’s Jesus? He is out in the darkness that sheltered his birth, holding the hand of the ones weeping tears of grief, standing beside a hospice bed, suffering through detox, just trying to hold on this night right here in our community.
Where’s Jesus? He is welcoming the children, protecting them from predators and slave traders, from abusive family members or the shrapnel and trauma of war, and offering of a heavy millstone to anyone who tries to keep him away from.
Where’s Jesus? He is as near as the next act of generosity offered, the next act of kindness rendered without expectation of reward, in every act of bravery that guards another’s dignity at the risk one’s own. Jesus is walking out into every situation where justice is being diminished and calling out for the attention of anyone who is listening.
Jesus is God with us. God with us. God with you. One of the residents of the Masonic Home in Franklin put it this way, “If you want Jesus in your life, you don’t have to steal him.” He is already yours.
Every manger scene is filled with familiar figures. That does not mean they are not filled with power and light and life. We cannot chain Jesus down. We can’t keep him in the manger. In wondrous ways, Jesus keeps breaking free and making his way into the world, into our hearts and minds, into our very lives. Right where he wants to be.