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).