BY REV. CHRIS ST. CLAIR - CALVARY UMC AND LANGDON UMC
Some time ago, preparing for the Christmas season at the church I was serving, it was decided we would run a full-page ad in the local paper celebrating the season and informing folks of our Christmas Eve service times. I asked a young couple who had just been blessed with a son to take some pictures of him in a manger setting. They were both very artistic and were excited at the prospect of their baby being "Jesus" — at least in the way that he was to be seen as Jesus in that church's seasonal marketing.
The pictures were perfect. The young couple enjoyed planning the photo session and setting a manger scene with their infant son playing the part of Savior of the world — if just for one digital photo's moment in time.
Remembering Christmases past has got me thinking of the things children face present-day as they grow up in this world. What things will they remember from their very young age? What things will require the memory and sharing of others to translate the experience? What moments will have, as in the young couple's photo shoot, a record set in image or images to aid in their remembering?
The Christmas story is one such image — set in our hearts, decorative creches; manger scenes in lit-up blown plastic or carved wood reminding us of the setting and the characters that played their parts, caught in the memorializing of that timeless moment where hope and justice and peace and kindness and love were bound in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. And that place, relegated to the care and feeding of the livestock of the day, became the greatest backdrop for the movement of indelible grace for humankind.
That picture cannot fade, can't have the plastic Jesus stolen from it (and later returned) as happened in a small town in which I once lived, can't suffer corruption as digital files sometimes do, can't be reduced because it is set in Legos or Duplo or FisherPrice. That moment, even retold and reset and recast, is one meant to be co-opted in every human heart, celebrated in every culture and every race, remembered in artistic masterpieces as well as simply-made creations of a Sunday School class.
From the simplest coloring book manger scene scrawled over with reckless abandon by a child's crayon to the most complex of hand-carved creches — from the most innocent of lives to the most encumbered — the message is the same: Jesus is here. Born not in process theology or denominational complexities nor in political preferences or even the limitations of the human imagination. Born not with tons of conditions or tomes of restrictions, but born in a manger. Born for you, for me, for all.
So, no need to "save Christmas" or safeguard it or require retail cashiers to proclaim it half-heartedly — it's here nonetheless. No need to worry that another's action or non-action might destroy it. Not a single one of us has that much power. And its seeming fragility is all a part of the plan. What God is up to that came to pass in Bethlehem that first Christmas is for all creation and all time. It cannot be diminished by humanity — it was already pared down by the Holy for all to have unfettered access. We may be like shepherds with our eyes on the earth, magi with our eyes on the heavens, or maybe even the townsfolk who did not understand what was happening in their midst. Even still, Jesus is born. And we can join in wonder as angels lend their light and voices to us and ours. The invitation for all is to come, behold, rejoice: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."