Advent Series 4: Whose child is this?

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While they were there the time came for her to deliver her child. She gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloth, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:6-7

By Bruce Stanley, President / CEO of Methodist Home for Children

Several years ago, Rev. Ned Hill was the bright, young associate pastor at Edenton Street UMC who was tasked with leading the family Christmas Eve service. He located the church’s nativity scene and carefully wrapped each of the figures. The plan was to have children unwrap each figure as Rev. Hill read the Christmas story. Despite careful planning and preparation, things went quickly awry.

When the children, in full Christmas fervor, caught on that there were more children than manger characters, those without characters to unwrap began crying “I want one!” “I didn’t get one!” etc. Soon sobbing and hysterical children were running back to their parents. Some families with disconsolate children simply chose to leave. Others stayed even though their children boo-hooed all through communion.

The next year, Rev. Hill decided to solve the dilemma posed by a certain number of manger figures and an uncertain crowd by inviting each family to bring baby Jesus from their nativity scene at home to the service. He invited the children to the chancel to put their baby Jesus upon the altar for a prayer of blessing. Each was then invited to take their baby Jesus back home.

Again, despite planning and preparation, chaos ensued. Many of the children, uncertain which baby Jesus was actually theirs, simply grabbed the closest one. Thus families with ceramic manger scenes found they now had a wooden baby Jesus; others with pewter scenes had obsidian baby Jesus; etc. When the new year began, families brought the “wrong”” baby Jesus back to the church office and would stop by week after week to see if the “right” baby Jesus was there. Ned shares that it wasn’t until after Easter that the last baby Jesus was returned home.

Beyond the obvious invitation to laughter, this recounting brings another invitation. The question “Whose Jesus is this?” is raised. We must all answer this question.

As we reflect during the last week of Advent, I challenge each of you to consider deeply, perhaps even confessionally, about whether or not you have appropriated Jesus for your own. The tendency to do it is hard to resist. Oft unawares, we appropriate Jesus for our own ends and claim our causes as his. We have Libertarian Jesus, Democratic Jesus, and Republican Jesus. We have made Jesus a Copt, a Catholic, a Methodist, a Baptist, and more. Jesus becomes a feminist, a fascist, a communist, and a capitalist.

When this occurs, we need to humbly repent and ask God to reorder our thinking. Jesus came that we might live after God’s example, not the other way around. Genesis proclaims that we are made in the image of God, the Imago Dei. We don’t get to form and fashion God according to our own passions and prejudices. On Christmas Eve I hope and pray that, like those young children years ago, you travel to the altar and take Jesus with you. I also pray that the Christ you carry away will be one who you seek to follow and not one you seek to form.

Merry Christmas.