For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Something is Missing

Whenever I am in a new city or village here in France I always check to see if the church is open. Whether it is a grand cathedral or a small chapel, each of them has a unique feel. Some are architectural marvels while others testify to a more humble and simple style.

This time of year many villages are decorated for Christmas and the churches are often the backdrop of the area's famous Christmas markets. In addition to all of the decorations in shop windows and the thousands of twinkling lights in the streets, each church decorates its sanctuary in keeping with the style of the building. Here in Strasbourg giant tapestries depicting the nativity are hung in our massive Cathedral.  Smaller churches have simpler ways of decorating that are in keeping with the life of the congregation that worships there. Wreaths, trees, and manger scenes are common. So are decorations hand-crafted by the artists of the church.

A couple of weeks ago I was wandering around in a town known for its Christmas market. The setting was magical. As usual, I looked for the church. Entering the church, I saw that it was well-decorated and beautiful.  As I walked around the I was drawn to the nativity set near the front of the church. It was wonderfully done except for one detail: there was no baby in the manger!

What could the explanation be?

Because it was Advent, I thought perhaps the pastor was doing a sermon series and was adding figurines to the display one-by-one until he added Jesus on Christmas. But that made little sense after I thought about it for a moment because there were figures in the scene that appeared after Jesus was born.

There was only one feasible explanation: someone had come into this unlocked church and stolen Jesus! I had heard of this happening from time to time in displays that were outdoors, but never in a church. It made me both sad and a little angry. The thought that someone would steal the figurine of Jesus from a church was almost beyond my comprehension. I should not have been surprised. It's simply a reminder that just as Jesus was often not welcome when he lived on the earth, he still isn't welcome today.

Remember the whole story of the birth of Jesus. His early years were spent as a refugee in Egypt. Joseph and Mary were forced to flee because Herod was trying to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:13-18). People have always been opposed to Jesus. They want him out of the picture. They do not want to acknowledge that he is the Son of God. If they could wipe all references to him from the pages of history they would. Stealing Jesus out of a nativity set is one symptom of this hatred of Jesus.

Usually, this eradication of Jesus is not so overt. It is subtle and quiet and takes place over many years. In the case of Christmas, it begins with the gradual emphasis on other things. Santa Claus, snowmen, and decorated trees are slowly pushed into the foreground. Jesus is slowly moved into the background. "Walking in a Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" replace "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "Joy to the World." Every trace of the birth of Jesus slowly fades away.

As an example of this, I remember one time at Christmastime I wandered through several large stores in the USA, looking at Christmas items for sale. Among hundreds of items like tree decorations, figurines, wrapping paper and greeting cards, there was not one image of the nativity. There were not even any angels to be found. Jesus had disappeared from the celebration of his own birth. I am sure that the store owners would say that they wanted to avoid offending people. Christmas sales, they reason, would be better without Jesus being around to distract people. They may be right about selling stuff, but that does not mean that people are better off without Jesus.

Each of us must realize that if Christmas is going to be more than a family gathering, it will be up to us who know him to talk about him. Many people are vaguely familiar with the story of Jesus's birth, but it does not connect with their lives. They don't see the potential impact that it can have on their lives. Who will explain the implications to them? It won't be the merchants at the Christmas markets. It will be people like you and me sharing how Jesus has changed our lives.

Perhaps you are visiting the Christmas markets and notice an attractive nativity scene. Why not start a conversation not only about the beauty of the set but about the incredibly good news it depicts? Or you could share the meaning of Christmas with an immigrant family. Or you can read the Christmas story together before you open presents. However God leads us, let us be heralds of the gospel this Christmas. Let us be the ones that put the missing baby Jesus back in the manger.

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