Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Unchain Jesus

            I crossed the street to get a better look at the large crèche outside a local business, and lingered to admire the figures. A donkey rested, a shepherd held a lamb, and Joseph stood guard, as Mary tenderly knelt near the animals’ feeding trough that served as cradle for her newborn son.
            Something out of place in the traditional scene—shiny, metallic—jarred me, and I leaned closer. Not quite hidden, a chain secured Baby Jesus and the other statues to the nativity scene. That was understandable; I’d heard of holiday decorations disappearing. The owner was thwarting thieves or mischief-makers. He didn’t want a manger with a missing Messiah.
            After New Year’s Day, the business owner will unchain Jesus, box him up, and stow him away for eleven months. That’s understandable, too. That’s what you do with December’s decorations. I anticipate again enjoying this three-dimensional profession of faith displayed in Milton.
            However, I hope that the real Jesus will not be handled like his plastic reproduction:  chained as an infant in a manger for a few weeks, then boxed in storage for most of the year.
            Jesus experienced similar treatment at times during his sojourn in Galilee two millennia ago. His biographers Luke and Mark recount Jesus’ visit to his hometown congregation. While there, he read a messianic prophecy from the scroll of Isaiah, then proclaimed, “Hey everybody, this is about me!”
            The response of the locals? Isn’t this the carpenter—Mary and Joseph’s boy? We know his family—he couldn’t possibly be anybody special! Who does he think he is, claiming the scripture is about himself? His neighbors still pictured Jesus as the cute tot toddling after Daddy in the wood shop; they took offense when he taught about his Father in heaven.
            Twenty centuries later, some still react like Jesus’ contemporaries: The mute baby-in-the-manger creates warm, fuzzy feelings, while the meddling adult Jesus makes us hot under the collar. We love the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay, but resent the wake-up call, “So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” (Luke 6:46, NLT)
            The chained baby in Milton’s manger reminded me that every person must choose how to respond to the real, crucified, resurrected, ascended, and still-living Jesus:
            Deplore him, like his offended neighbors and the religious hierarchy who wanted him dead.
            Ignore him for most of the year, becoming misty-eyed in December, like even many who consider themselves Christians.
            Adore him. Study his teachings and try to live them. Write him on every day of every month of the calendar.
            Jesus—he’s not just for Christmas.

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