The younger son (now 12 months older) noticed “on screen” the beloved canine (who died in January and had not “been around” for 11 months). He looked to his right and to his left, and, perplexed, asked, “Where dat dog go?”
We annually “make a lap” on the calendar, arrive at Christmas, peer into the stable feed-trough, and may want to ask, “Where dat baby go?”
A friend of mine has observed: “Jesus grew up! Thank God!”
As we circle our way into Bethlehem annually and imaginatively, we’re searching, as we’re told shepherds and magi did centuries ago. Jesus Christ — the Savior of Nations, the Promised Messiah — is born, but he is born to grow up and mature amid God’s people, and to die, but not too soon. Growth in life takes time and includes other persons, both for Jesus “back then,” and for all of God’s people.
Last September, our Christian Education and Faith Development Coordinator Pam Engler remembered reading about a church’s Advent devotional booklet based on Psalm 34:8 – “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” She this year advertized for church members and participants to send recipes and family stories related to Christmases across the years. She paired the submitted recollections and recipes with selected Scriptures and prayers that mention (1) Advent themes and (2) sharing food and fellowship as God’s people.
As Pam was collecting 27 holiday memories which are endearing, appreciated, tasty, and sacred, three other church members engaged me in very different conversations. They detailed personal experiences which included chronic manipulation, unrelenting grief, low self-esteem, unrecognized and unreconciled anger, emotional injuries, resistance to recovery, etc. Tears were shed, which were not tears of joy; yet those conversations also mentioned and celebrated subjects such as grace, strength, resilience, responsibility, understanding, healing, and newness of life.
Advent, Christmas, and every time of year and stage of life include both what is blessed and positive and what is anxiety – producing and heart-breaking. Into this sort of world Jesus was born, and it’s still that way.
In 1945, W. H. Auden published a lengthy poem, “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio.” It is no naïve or superficial description of Advent and Christmas. Auden fully recognized threat and trauma in God’s world: during the Roman Empire, and before, and since. Auden gives these words to the shepherds who travel to the stable: “The prison gates have opened. Music and sudden light have interrupted our routine tonight, and swept the filth of habit from our hearts. O here and now our endless journey starts!”
After shepherds made their way to Bethlehem stable and beheld a babe in a feed-trough cradle, that babe grew up! On a Friday evening thirty years later, devastated disciples would lay his body in a donated garden tomb, which was sealed with a very large boulder. Two mornings later, discovering the stone rolled back and the tomb empty, disciples basically asked one another “Where dat Jesus go?”
To which my friend might reply with a version of his empty-manger quote, “He is risen. Thank God, he is risen!” What a difference this makes!
TED V. FOOTE JR. is pastor of First Church, Bryan, Texas.