Restoring the Stolen Jesus

 

Several years ago I visited a community in North Carolina that had two churches of the same denomination directly across an alley from one another. The exact same denomination. Two different churches. In a very small community.

I don’t know the history of what caused the one church to split off of the other, but it was pretty clear that the folks who attended those churches had a differing of viewpoints. They worshiped the same God but could not see fit to live out the fellowship part of their faith. Somewhere along the way one or the other decided that the way they regarded God was more better than the way those others regarded God.

So great was the animosity between the two congregations that when the Church on the Left erected a life-size Nativity on the lawn, the Church on the Right erected an even more elaborate Nativity. When the Church on the Left bowed on bent knee, the Church on the Right stood unmovable. As far as I know both those churches are still standing within a few hundred feet of one another. The people who attend those churches still go to the ballgames on Friday and Saturday nights together. They just can’t bring themselves to worship together. And yes, of course they surely know that they will have to get along in Heaven. God doesn’t want to be playing Landlord to cantankerous neighbors. They just have no intention of getting along before they are forced (by death) to.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Church on the Left and the Church on the Right lately. It’s especially been on my mind since we moved. I’ve been thinking about one story in particular that happened to the Church on the Left. Seems that one night during the Christmas Season, an inebriated man came along and stole the Baby Jesus from the Church on the Left.

Just picked up the Baby Jesus and carried him off someplace.

But the man who did the stealing of Jesus got to feeling badly about what he’d done, so he called the police department and confessed. Well, it’s more like he blubbered out what he’d done. The dispatcher who took his 0-11 call wasn’t quite sure how to handle such a call, but she sent a patrol car out to look for Jesus and to return him to his rightful manger. (Which, if you think about it, is like taking a homeless infant from a shelter to a barn yard and dumping him there).

I thought of the stolen Baby Jesus as the pastor preached a sermon yesterday. The church – a high school auditorium – was packed. We had to move an entire family in order to reach our seats to be near our own brood, who were all there with the exception of the boy who now lives in Georgia and rarely makes it back for the holidays. He is missed.

Anyway, the preacher was talking about the Baby Jesus when I turned to my daughter and told her that I had read that morning that some consider Christmas the very day that people around the world celebrate the homeless, and not two minutes later the pastor read that very C. K. Chesterton quote:

“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.”

 

Pastor went on to talk about how Joseph and Mary and the Baby Jesus were the poster family for what it means to be a refugee. If Christmas represents anything, it ought to be symbolic of the marginalized among us – the poor, the migrant, the refugee. Those in search of a place called home.

Yet, it seems like 2017 became the year when the Church on the Right stole the story of Jesus and claimed it as their own. The Church on the Right does not cater to the notion of Jesus as poor. Or Jesus as a refugee. Or Jesus as a migrant. Or Jesus as a servant. Or Jesus as someone who gave his all. The Church on the Right only claims a Jesus who reigns. A Jesus who rules. A Jesus for whom winning means everything. An apoplectic Jesus. The only Jesus that matters is the one who is King. The Golden Jesus of Prosperity. The Jesus who owns all the cattle on the hill and the hill itself.

It’s as if the Baby Jesus was stolen from the front lawn of the Church on the Left by the Church on the Right.

It’s so easy to lose sight of Jesus in the bickering over who stole him.

In North Carolina the police were able to recover the Stolen Jesus and return him to his manger. Even before he sobered up, the drunk man confessed to stealing Baby Jesus and said he was awfully sorry. The locals forgave him and he hasn’t ever messed with the manger on any church lawn since. He’s left Baby Jesus in his rightful place, to be adored by all.

Here’s hoping 2018 will be the year in which Baby Jesus is restored to his rightful place in our lives. A year in which both the Church on the Left and the Church on the Right once again get about the thrill of adoring Jesus, the migrant son of a marginalized family, who were just in search of a place to call home.

 

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Will Jesus Buy Me a DoubleWide ‘Cause I need more room for my plasma TV? (Zondervan).

 

 

 

 

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

3 Comments

AFRoger

about 7 months ago

'Manager' or manger? :) There is an ironic truth in that misspelling. Perhaps we modern churches have lapsed into managing Jesus rather than hearing him, following him. This year, I made the simple Christmas cards I sent. As the artwork, I used several images from a 1930 book published by the late artist James Reid. It is a wordless book titled The Life of Jesus in Woodcuts. In wordless wonder, these 71 B&W images retell the greatest story ever told in spare, sweeping lines, set mostly against a night sky filled with stars at the beginning. The very first, the annunciation to Mary, took my breath away the first time I saw it, an original edition at Powell's Books. I knew I had to have that book, but all I can find now are paperback reprints not nearly as good. Should have bought the original. The church is called to proclaim and follow Christ. We can hope to do so only by admitting that our best efforts to know him are fraught with fragmentation of the greater truth. Yet, we are called to be the epicenter of that tumultuous struggle to know and be known by Christ. While reading during a two-hour donation of blood platelets at the Red Cross on Saturday, I received one of the best Christmas presents ever. I finally found the source of a quote I heard many years ago and that has haunted me ever since. In his 1926 book titled Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, British economic historian R. H. Tawney traces the history of the church in England and Europe struggling to make sense of morality and "economy" in a constantly changing world driven increasingly by commerce, colonialism and finance. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Tawney observes that, "The social teaching of the church had ceased to count, because the church itself had ceased to think." Can we honestly say those words are not true today, even more so? In this crazy, mixed up time I know no way forward but humility tempered with courage, or perhaps courage tempered with great humility. I guess that's why I could find nothing better to send or say this year than that said wordlessly 87 years ago, mostly in a few spare and graceful lines of white (light) set against the darkness. It's all we ever have. John's gospel begins by speaking to the world's desperate need for light. It's all we ever have.

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Karen Spears Zacharias

about 7 months ago

Yes, managing Jesus is how you turn a religion into a profit-sharing business. It's not the church that has ceased to think. The church is an institution. It's the people within the church, the people in the pews. Of course, maybe we do them a disservice. Maybe they think a' plenty and what they think is that they'd rather have a King than a servant, a Prince rather than a pauper, Prosperity rather than principles. Maybe they have chosen their god and he is gilded gold.

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AFRoger

about 7 months ago

As we considered the fate of the biblical prophets, their work, their word, the setting and the resistance they encountered, a wise professor focused our wonder in that class by stating, "A word FROM the prophet must first of all be a word TO the prophet." To those of us on whom the hands of apostolic succession have been laid, the very hands of Christ, a mantle has been laid. It marks us forever as servants called to listen, to hear, to see, to question, to lay aside prejudices and preconceptions, to meditate and to pray, to wrestle with and within ourselves, and finally to speak and walk as the still, small voice of God, casting the seed as the Sower does, trusting the Spirit for the growth because the Seed is faithful. The "crowds" that came out to hear John the Baptizer and Jesus were always vastly in the minority of the populace. That's helpful. I've learned this: If it's prophetic, it's probably not popular. If it's popular, it's probably not prophetic. Being "salt" does not consist in turning everything else in existence into salt. It means doing what only salt can do. It means being faithful as salt which is as essential to life as water, oxygen, carbon and hydrogen, and every other element and particle. And love. Peace to you as you contemplate the perfect love that your Mama now knows.

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