I set out my manger scene this week, along with my other Christmas decorations. I had long wanted a Nativity, and am so pleased with the one I purchased. It was carved out of olivewood in Bethlehem and lacquered to a glossy finish. It is unpretentious, yet elegant; very significant, yet very… small. It is too small really. When I picked out the Nativity at the shop in Jerusalem, I instantly admired it for its simplicity and beauty. While I still admire it for those qualities, the Nativity just does not occupy enough space. Don’t get me wrong, I love to pick it up and admire the baby Jesus in His little wheat cradle, but I can very easily put Him back on the table and ignore Him for the rest of the week.
What I really need is a Nativity that demands attention, perhaps one where Mary and Joseph are actually sitting on my couch, gazing into a cradle that is so big that I bark my shins on it when trying to walk through the room in the dark. I want a Nativity that forces me to recognize that Christ is here, and challenges me to do something about it.
The problem with Jesus is that He isn’t like a baby at all. When a baby has a need, she communicates it democratically to all bystanders. Jesus, on the other hand, makes His will known to me and then patiently waits for me to make the next move. The trouble comes when I don’t make that move. Jesus wants me to tell others about Him, but I get so caught up in all the activity and excitement and fun of Christmas that Christ is no longer my dominating force, but is relegated to about the same amount of space in my life as the tiny woodcarving of Him occupies in my house. Yet my relationship with Christ needs to be healthy at especially this time of the year, for there is an urgent message to proclaim:
“‘Of the child that is born,’ said Baltasar,
‘Good people, I pray you, tell us the news;
For we in the East have seen His star,
And have ridden fast, and have ridden far,
To find and worship the King of the Jews.’
And the people answered, ‘You ask in vain;
We know of no king but Herod the Great!’
They thought the Wise Men were men insane,
As they spurred their horses across the plain
Like riders in haste who cannot wait.”
(The Three Kings, Longfellow)
There is nothing so important, entertaining, or dazzling about Christmas that the message of Christ needs to be superceded. I have to ask myself if I am like Baltasar, making haste to find and worship Jesus this time of year, or if I am more like the people of the latter verse who fail to grasp the big picture.
I have decided that my life has been filled with too much Christmas and not enough Christ. The presents, merrymaking, and hoopla are overrated. This year (and hopefully for years to come), Christ is all I need to celebrate Christmas: nothing more, nothing less. Don’t buy me a gift, provide me with more Christ in my life. You can have all this world, but give me Jesus.
–Brent Arn was the staff chaplain and worked in the kitchen this summer. He is a student at Asbury Theological Seminary and hails from Winchester, Ohio.
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