Afew years ago, about this many days before Christmas, someone stole the baby Jesus out of the Nativity scene in front of our house.
As you can imagine, this was an unhappy occurrence for our family, and particularly for my two boys. They were ready to organize a "search" party to rescue Jesus from his captors, and execute justice on those who stole him. Nerf accessories in hand, they were prepared to go on reconnaissance missions throughout the neighborhood and bring the perpetrators to justice; as you can imagine all this filled my mind with a wide range of sermon illustrations.
With the idea dismissed of going to rescue our lighted Jesus, we still had the question of what to do. Do we keep the display as it is?
We tried to find another lighted Jesus, but all the stores were out (we thought this a good thing, actually).
My wife came up with the idea of putting a cross in the place of where Jesus was to illustrate the power of the resurrection and that Jesus was born as savior. This was what we did for the remainder of the year.
To elaborate on the story; the scene the baby Jesus was stolen from was a very substantial manger constructed because the two previous years we'd spent much time chasing and retrieving baby Jesus and the rest of the scene's characters from down the street because of wind.
So that year, we'd put the baby Jesus, as well as the other characters, in a shelter and screwed them into place. It took great effort to steal Jesus from this display.
In the end, I don't think our Christmas or the Christmas of others we were hoping to share with was diminished because a lighted Jesus was taken. In fact, it has led to many good conversations with neighbors and others; conversations that went well beyond the superficial, "nice decorations."
Over the past several years there have been a lot of discussions and public moaning about what some have seen as an attack on Christmas, or of having Christmas stolen.
While I do lament what I believe to be the intolerant actions of others regarding Christmas and its role in public life, no one can really steal Christmas, from us unless we let them.
Ever since the first Christmas, there have been those who would try to attack it. From King Herod, who ordered mass executions and infanticide as a response, to modern-day oppression in countries where believers are really persecuted for their faith.
Yet Christmas presses on. It presses on in the hearts and minds of believers who accept the invitation of the carol, "Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in."
It presses on through the ministry of the church when the Good News is offered, suffering reduced, injustice opposed and God's people live as salt and light in a world God loves.
I believe the greater danger for many of us is that the deep meaning of Christmas will not be experienced, but not because someone "stole" it from us.
We are in greater danger of neglecting the true meaning and purpose of Christmas in our lives by not attending to the things that might bring it alive.
We are in greater danger of burying Christmas in mounds of debt or wrapping paper.
We are in greater danger of obscuring Christmas by turning the trinkets of the season into treasures and the treasures of the season into trinkets.
Jesus said, "Do not lay your treasures up on Earth, where moths and rust can destroy."
In the same vein, let us not lay Christmas up on earth where robbers or enemies of God or anyone else can take it; instead let us secure it in our hearts, where it works its true miracle and changes us into the people God intends for us to be.
This year let Christmas be born in you!
The Rev. Albert Gillin is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church. Contact him at 509-525-1093 or by email at email@example.com. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.