This past Saturday was the day that the members of First decorate the place. The hallways are decked out in wreaths and garlands, Christmas trees are found in the lounge and in the sanctuary. This year’s decorations will be memorable because this is the last Christmas at our current location. In a few weeks, we will take buses and start worshipping at SpringHouse.
One of the things that are always interesting are the manger scenes. Like most folks, people tend to decorate the mangers with all the central characters; the wise men (even though they weren’t at the manger), the shepherds, Joseph, Mary and yes, Jesus. One my favorite mangers at church is one that is basically made for kids. The characters are all dolls and you can imagine a kid picking it up and squeezing it. That manger scene is a bit different. One of the young mothers set it up in front of the communion table. Mary and Joseph are there at the stable, but you have the shepherd on the steps leading down from the chancel and the wise men are all the way in the back of the church near the narthex.
What missing is Jesus. There’s no baby Jesus to be found.
The young mother explained to me that it’s not Christmas yet, so the characters in the birth story are still aways off. As Christmas draws closer, they will move in closer and closer. What I was fixated on was the fact that there was no Jesus. She did a good job of hiding Jesus, because I could not find the baby Jesus any where in the sanctuary. Where’s Jesus? Where indeed. Advent is about waiting and expectation, but I wonder if sometimes it’s also about this scary feeling that hope will never come, that things will never change. Recently, I found out that a friend of mine lost their job. This person and his partner are facing an uncertain holiday season, not to mention and uncertain future. I am reminded of my own struggles of being fired from a job several years ago near Christmas. That season was not one for the recordbooks. It’s in those dark times that people feel that hope is not present and that Jesus is nowhere to be found. We might pray and pray and for whatever reason, it feels like the phone line is dead.
Isaiah 61 tells the returning Israelites that hope is on the way. The holy city of Jerusalem that had been destroyed decades earlier, would be rebuilt better than ever. It’s a great story and would be even better if it just stopped there. But we learned that some of the background reveals that Jerusalem was never rebuilt in the way the writer of Isaiah 61 said it would-at least not in their lifetime. And yet, this passage is still one of hope. Actually it’s not just about hope, but also about faith. We have faith that hope will prevail even if we can’t see it. As I said earlier, one of the Christmas trees is located in the lounge. It’s decorated with lights and an angel at the top…and socks. We’re collecting socks to donate to the Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services, to help newcomers have warm feet in the winter, since most of them are coming from tropical countries to chilly Minnesota. I think that in Advent we learn that Jesus can take the form of…well, socks. It’s hard when you are in pain or suffering to see Jesus anywhere, but maybe we can have hope that Jesus is the giving of socks to the stranger, or in the kind word we give to someone grieving or simply standing by a friend as they battle cancer. Maybe it’s in these small acts that we have hope and faith that God is here with us…and maybe it’s where Jesus is found.