Friday, December 9, 2011

Saving Jesus

    Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon... It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
       “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
   For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
    The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
-Luke 2:25-35 (NIV)

    New York’s BrickHouse Security is offering a solution this Christmas season to something that I didn’t even know was a problem. Using free GPS tracking devices, the security company is giving the gift of peace of mind to churches and other organizations beset with this particular problem. “The holidays are about helping people,” BrickHouse CEO Todd Morris explains. “We’re happy to expand the program and help even more people this year.”
    The problem: an epidemic of stolen baby Jesus figurines from Nativity displays.
    I’m not sure why the theft of Baby Jesuses seems to be up, and I have no statistics to show how steep the rise in this crime is. (Mostly because I have better things to do.) “The theft and vandalism of treasured holiday figures is a problem we can empower communities and congregations to solve,” says CEO Morris, and that’s good enough for me. Mostly, what I wonder is, “Why?” Why would you steal a Baby Jesus from a creche? Is it a hostage-type thing, to guarantee the gifts you want are under the tree?  
    After I read this story, I noticed that the church down the street from me has steel cables securing Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and even the Wise Men. (Who aren’t supposed  to be there anyway, right?) Are there really determined nativity thieves who bring bolt cutters with them?   
    BrickHouse calls the program “Saving Jesus,” and this season will mark the sixth year the company has supplied the devices to organizations and churches. Qualifying organizations will receive the Spark Nano GPS Tracker device, which is described as “matchbox-sized” and can be hidden either on or in the Jesus figurines. BrickHouse even ships the device for free, and it arrives ready to use.
    I’m thinking of another holiday that might benefit from the addition of GPS transmitters. It would take all the guesswork out of Easter Egg hunts, wouldn’t it?
    All kidding aside, just a quick look around my corner of the world makes me think that it might be a very good idea if someone saved Jesus this Christmas. I don’t even really mean to refer to the trend in recent years to turn Christmas into a more neutral “Holidays,” with Santas and “Holiday Trees” and sleighs replacing Jesus and mangers and shepherds. Why should that surprise us, and why, for that matter, should we expect non-Christians or nominal Christians to validate our faith in the court of public opinion?
    No, if Jesus is to be “saved” at Christmas, it will be the responsibility of those of us who wear his name to do the saving. If we don’t want Christmas to be a completely secular holiday that’s about nothing more than shopping and parties and hanging stockings, then we’ll have to be the ones to locate Jesus under all the gift wrap and fruitcake and holiday cheer.
    As we decorate our homes for Christmas, we’ll need to be sure that some of our decorations witness to the story of Jesus.
    As we shop for and give gifts, we’ll need to make sure our choices of what we give, and how much, and how, and to whom all reflect the love and grace of Jesus.
    As we brush up against our friends, our family, our colleagues, our neighbors this time of year, we’ll need to especially remember to speak and act in ways that make Jesus visible to them.
    And as we hear the innumerable, wistful references to peace and goodwill toward man that are always a part of the season, we’ll need to speak of Jesus as the source of that peace and goodwill. And we’ll need to remember that many of those for whom Jesus came as yet know of neither peace nor goodwill.
    Simeon saw the connection, through his faith, between that infant in his arms and God’s salvation. He saw in that baby revelation and glory and the rising and falling of many. Years later, Paul wrote that in the fullness of time, Jesus was born of a woman to redeem us and make us God’s children. The angels proclaimed good news of great joy, peace, and good will because of that baby born in the city of David. They all pointed, in their way, to the birth of Jesus into this world as the embodiment, the incarnation, of God’s grace to hurting human beings in need of salvation, redemption, and rescue. That’s the hope to which we must testify, not only this time of year, but surely this time of year.
    Whatever your favorite TV show’s “very special Christmas episode” may say, there is no disembodied “Holiday spirit” which will solve all our problems and fulfill all our longings if we’ll just let it. Whatever the songs say, our hope isn’t in being home for the holidays, or in Santa Claus coming to town, or even in decking the halls in boughs of holly. The Holy Spirit is embodied in Jesus, and our world with its problems and longings needs him. Our hope is in him. As it’s always been. And it’s up to his people to declare that hope.
    May we not lose track of him this Christmas.

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