It is the iconic religious figure seen during Christmas time laid upon the straw watched over by Mary and Joseph. The baby in the manger. But in recent years it is also the most hotly debated and replaced image of the Christmas season. From the endless battles over whether the Nativity Scene can be shown on public grounds and town centers to this need to replace that little human baby with any number of characters like Stewie from Family Guy, Bart Simpson, a baby stormtrooper, a zombie Jesus, the devil and finally this year in the UK, a red handbag.
What I don’t think we understand or don’t want to understand is that when we take away the baby in the manger it’s not primarily a religious icon that we are removing but our story and it is our humanity we are trying to replace with cartoon figures and zombies. The nativity story in and of itself is the human story, a story of struggle, heartache and confusion. The story of family and expectations, of a woman and a baby and of a man that wants to do what is right but doesn’t know what that is. It is our story of fear of what will happen next and trust, our story of violence and hope and ultimately our story of death and life all wrapped up into that single solitary little baby laid down in the manger of straw. In every respect that helpless little baby is you and me.
But we know that we don’t want to be that helpless baby, we spend our whole lives trying to be something, anything else. We want to feel empowered and strong, we want to feel like we will live forever and never have anything wrong with us, we want to feel like we are in control of our tomorrows, anything but the reality of who we are in that helpless babe laid in the manger. But the reality always finds us when illness lingers and tragedy strikes, war all around us and war all within us and as we came into this world so we also leave this world,. Maybe that is why we try so hard to get rid of that image of the helpless human baby and change it even if it means transforming ourselves into zombies, sarcastic cartoon characters and little red purses. Maybe I’ll feel more in control if I’m a zombie and all I have to do is consume, sounds strange saying it like that but how often are we told that life is all about consuming and possessing. Maybe if I’m a sarcastic cartoon character and push people away I won’t get hurt but I also miss out on real relationships as well. Or if my life is all about owning that little red purse whoever has the most red purses wins, except they don’t of course. All of these illusions and stories that we put ultimately between us and God so we don’t have to admit how helpless and need of help we really are.
If we take away the helpless baby in the manger we are taking away ourselves, our stories, we think our helplessness but really our humanity. But if we dare to approach the Christmas baby in the manger as He is intended we must let all of our illusions fall aside of becoming something other than we are and simply receive the helpless baby and know that is who we are as well.
The door in our heart that we use to acknowledge our helplessness before God is also the door that God uses to give to us the one thing that brought God almighty to become the helpless baby. That is love. Love for us, love for you and me, love for our world. God coming to a world filled with people who want to become everything else but who we are, lost in the darkness of our own fear and pride and in doing that missing out on who we were intended to be. God became human so we could become human, not zombies or cartoons but human. In that human story in the nativity what we find in that straw in that baby is what we are and what we are to become. Love. The love of God in Christ Jesus is what it means to be human.
God is love, who loved us first, so we in faith may be the love of God and love one another as God has loved us. This is what we have lost when we take away the baby from the manger, from our lawns and our cities and our hearts, we take away at our very heart who we were created to be.
Amid all of the other things that goes on, around and about Christmas, this is how we celebrate Christmas rightly. Let all of our illusions fall away, all of our pride and strength fall to the ground before the nativity and simply receive the Christmas story in faith as the helpless babies that we are and be transformed into what we could not become on our own, what we’re always meant to be, human, that is the love of God in our world. Amen.