In our house we have the tradition of putting the Baby Jesus in the creche on midnight on Christmas Eve. During Advent the manger sits empty with the other figures around it . . . waiting. I love it when Hope, as lady of the house, brings out the Baby and completes the scene.
Christmas will be here at last, but right now the manger is empty and we wait.
The negative space where Jesus should be shouts at me whenever I pass the creche.
Where is Jesus? Where is the center of so much devotion?
There is an obvious point, but one no less important because it is often made. Christmas without Jesus is just a mass of presents and baubles . . . all outer sign with no inner reality.
If the manger had stayed empty, then there would be no Christmas.
This year I realized, however, a deeper point. It is often easier to see Jesus’ importance where He isn’t then where He is. Christians have Jesus within transforming them, but the messy and slow process of healing our souls often obscure His good work.
People see us and we reflect, God have mercy, badly on Jesus. Christ appears less than He should, because I am so weak and so obscure His vision. But then we lift our eyes up and think of a world without Jesus . . . without the art, the culture, the music, the poetry, the architecture, and the transformed lives that He has produced.
We look at the places in American culture that reject Him and we see that consumerism has not been rejected, but allowed to grow without any check whatsoever.
Someone might reply that he knows good and decent people, admirable people in fact, of other faiths or of no faith that reject Jesus. I certainly know such folk, but when I see how much good they have done, how great they have grown, then I wonder what would happen if the Lord of Love were directly empowering them.
I do not deny their manger is lovely, but I am sorry it is empty, because if it had the Child Jesus in it, then it would be perfected. He is that Beautiful. He would adorn any shrine, perfect any life, complete any bit of artistry, increase the profundity of any sage. Sometimes, of course, He is there, but hidden. Sometimes He is, in innocent ignorance, thought to be other than He is and so is served by other names and in wrong ways, but if He were there indeed, then He would make all things better.
He would complete a setting that seems to call out for Him. I sometimes see Jesus in the negative space of a noble pagan’s life, such as Plato, most clearly, because He is not there and His absence is louder than His presense in my own life.
God help me.
Because I am not a noble pagan, I am neither noble nor pagan. The second is a good thing, but the first is a blasphemy. Jesus is in my heart, but I obscure that priceless truth with ungentlemanly behaviors.
Dear Christ show yourself in me and to me.