Every year there are voices that decry the removal of Christ from Christmas, reminding us that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” or that we need to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” But come January, we always put Jesus back in the box.
Well, we do at my house, anyway.
The same Jesus that occupied the center of the crèche on our dining room table has now been returned to his tiny plastic pouch for another year, accompanied once again by wise men, shepherds and the angelic throng accompanied by Joseph and Mary. The lights and glitter of the season, crimped to our gutters, has been bundled into boxes marked “Christmas” and the tree – now a brown and lifeless thing that fertilizes our carpeting – has been dragged into the yard where, come spring time, it will be burned on the brush pile to roast wieners.
I’ll agree that there is a sadness to this transformation, especially when the final bags of wrapping paper scraps are carried to the curb, and the January mercury takes a nose-dive into single digit numbers, and family members have gone their respective ways.
We might actually believe that Jesus has left the building if our faith were tied to boxes and bows and ribbons and porcelain figurines. But deep down we know that Jesus is not a cliché, and he cannot be confined to a few December days or a “season” of light.
No, Christ isn’t in the box. He never was.
And in the larger scheme of things, we dare not allow our faith in the Lord to be confined to gingerbread days or a wrapping-paper season. We may indeed find him around the tree, but we can’t keep him there, and as soon as we pour out the last of the eggnog, Jesus is compelling us to leave the comforts of home and go out into the frigid world. It’s a cold place. We know this. The winds of change are always blowing, and we can’t yet see the promise of Easter. It is only January and we crave a coat, rather than the Spirit, to keep us warm.
Still, Christmas is with us. We have the promise of birth (and new birth) and a full life ahead. We may try to stuff Jesus in a box, hide him away in the closet with the Dickenson Village, but he will always emerge to challenge us. It might actually be a good thing that we have shed the weight (and our additional weight) of a season past and can now get on with the more difficult work of being the light instead of putting up lights.
January is tough business and I know Jesus never experienced a Hoosier winter.
But if we look hard enough, we will see him in the eyes of the cold, the hungry and the post-Christmas shoppers. Jesus is the reason for January and some of that light shining in the dark, cold places might be coming from our congregations. We might even be the warm friends for whom many people are looking.
Todd Outcalt warms himself at Calvary UMC in Brownsburg, Ind. and writes every day underneath a 40-watt bulb. Some of his goodies include $5 Youth Ministry, The Ultimate Christian Living, and He Said, She Said with Michelle Knight.