What the apostle Paul is saying here is that God’s goodness and love is poured out to us in Jesus, and when that love runs loose in us then it will find its way outward in good works toward others. We receive a gift, and we pass it on. We don’t hold on to Jesus; we share him with the world. There are many like Herod and Augustus in the world who do not know love and service, but only know hate and power. Like Jesus, we are to love them anyway, even when they try to steal our joy.
So, here’s the deal: Jesus doesn’t need to be protected, guarded, tracked or defended; he just wants to be followed. And if we faithfully follow him, he will take us out among those who need the gift of his love the most: people who hatch drunken plots in bars, people who clamor for attention, people who are angry at the world and angry at God, people who are broken and have no happy in their holidays. It’s a love that is dangerous because it calls us to risk ourselves in service to the world, but that’s where Jesus’ love goes – toward those who have none.
The prophet Isaiah was right, “A little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6); one who is born not only to be admired in a manger, but to be “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). We don’t track Jesus to bring him back into our lives. Rather, we track him biblically, prayerfully, joyfully to see where he wants to lead us.
In Dittmer, Mo. Pastor Scott Lohse of Saint Martin’s United Church of Christ recognized that baby Jesus gets stolen out of outdoor nativity sets every year, but rather than devise another way to keep the manger occupied, Scott had another idea: “We didn’t want to be found nailing Jesus down or tying him to an anchor or putting him on a chain,” he says. “We wanted to find a way to put a display on our lawn that symbolized the season, but also [stresses] the fact that Christmas is really about giving.”
So, the church has a nativity display, but in the manger there’s no statue or doll of baby Jesus. Instead, there are hundreds of ornaments depicting the baby and a sign that says, “Free, take one.” “Christ is a gift,” says Pastor Scott. “He doesn’t belong to us and so you can’t steal him from us.”
Indeed, Christ is a gift: a precious gift from God for the whole world to receive; a Christmas gift in Jesus for all to share. Thus, I leave you with this question to consider this Christmas: “Knowing Christ is a gift, will you do everything possible to keep him to yourself, anchored in the manger or to give him away to others, away from the manger?” I pray you will give Jesus away as often as possible.
Just a thought . . .
[This article is an excerpt from the December 30, 2012, sermon message]