It is that time of year when people dress up in old curtains tied with rope, or white sheets with silver tinsel, or in burger king crowns carrying gold-wrapped empty boxes. I think my niece got her first nativity experience dressed as a sheep, one of my daughters gets to be a wise man, and I haven’t yet heard about what the rest will be.
Some groups keep it simple, while others go all out. Seamstresses take costuming to a whole new level, carpenters spring into action, and maybe even farmers share a prize head or two of something or other. But in the hustle and bustle of busy homes and manic church vestries, I wonder how many nativity scenes this year will make the easy mistake of forgetting to bring the baby? Relying on a little girl to bring her beloved doll might seem like the safest option of all, but I suspect more than one Jesus will be missed this Christmas.
What happens if you lose Jesus? Apart from a frantic deacon driving home like a Finnish rally driver? If you lose Jesus from a nativity it is probably amusing. But if you lose Jesus from Christianity? That is serious business.
I’ve watched it as preachers preach with Jesus missing in action. The sermons tend to become moral tirades and a policing of church and society. Sometimes in the midst of these “societies ills” speeches we can find ourselves gently humming the old song, “Give me Jesus . . . you can have all this world, just give me Jesus.”
In evangelism the same thing happens. Letting Jesus slip through the fingers means that we end up offering some sort of moral-only gospel. You’ve been bad, judgment is coming. God can help you fix that, and there are some other benefits too. Huh?
John Piper put his finger on this issue when he wrote:
“The critical question for our generation – and for every generation – is this: If you could have Heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with Heaven, if Christ was not there?”
In our personal spirituality, what happens when Jesus is shut out? Well, we tend to see God as very distant, we tend to become self-oriented (back to the benefits again, benefits alone), and we can become very behavioral in our focus.
Without Jesus our Bible reading will have heavy underlining on the “walk worthy” passages, but marker pen obscuring the glorious calling sections that underlie such exhortations.
I suppose the Bible shows us what to expect when Jesus is missed. In John 5 Jesus rebukes the religious elite for being diligent Bible men, but for ignoring Him. They read their Old Testaments and they somehow missed that the God of the Bible is a God who reveals Himself and who walks on two legs many times and who is the focus of the faith of those folks from of old. But the religious types had looked through the lenses of self-glorifying love and had lost any sense of being in relationship with God.
That’s what happens. When we lose Jesus from Christianity, we lose relationship with God. We become self-glorifying, and we become a self-appointed police force – spiritual vigilantes.
If my children are in a nativity on Sunday and the baby is missing, I don’t mind. Just as long as they know that Christianity is about Christ every day throughout the year. The challenge I feel is this: will they know it is about Christ from hanging around me?
Let’s be sure to pause this Christmas and let our hearts be stirred afresh by the wonder of it all. As Charles Wesley put it: In vain the first-born seraph tries, to sound the depths of love divine! Indeed, can we ever really grasp that veiled in flesh, the Godhead we see, that in that manger lay the incarnate deity? Can we get our hearts and minds around that he was pleased as man with man to dwell?
So with Jesus firmly centre stage in our Christianity, we can celebrate relationship: no condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in Him is mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed with righteousness divine. Bold I approach the eternal throne. Let’s never lose Jesus, He is far too precious.