Last Saturday I enjoyed one of my favorite events of the year; the annual Christmas tree hunt. We are fortunate to have a great tree farm about 30 minutes away. The owners go all out to make it a family experience, including rides in a hay truck out to the trees, crackling fires in barrels to keep you warm, and a complimentary glass of hot cider when the hunt is over. The final treat is their Christmas shop that is replete with a wide variety of decorations, ornaments and fancy food-stuffs. The aroma of fresh cut evergreens alone is worth the visit.
As we strolled around the shop after bagging our ten-foot grand fir, I was enjoying the amazing display of ornaments. There were moose in canoes, raccoons made of bristle brushes, marshmallow people enjoying a variety of sports. There were Santas, elves, snowflakes and reindeer. Outdoorsy-types could buy tiny fishing vests, downhill skis, camping tent and backpacks. And the list goes on and on.
In the midst of the visual bacchanalia I suddenly realized that there was one genre of Christmas ornamentation that was missing. Jesus was nowhere to be found. Given the politically conservative area we live in, I was surprised and thought I must be missing something. So I began searching. I looked past the stockings, fake holly, spiced cider ingredients and an impressive display of nutcrackers. I searched around the holiday plates, front-door wreathes and snowflake wall hangings. On and on I looked, until finally I found a small backroom away from the main displays. There, amid the Christmas flags, lawn ornaments and door swags was a small shelf with about ten or so little crèches. A couple of Mary and Joseph figurines and a few three-wise-men ornaments completed the meager display. That was it. The birth of the savior of the world, the coming in flesh of the king of kings and lord of lords, the moment that was heralded by legions of angels was relegated to a dusty shelf in the backroom of a Christmas store.
The site of that sad little display amidst the avalanche of pseudo-Christmas trinkets reminded me how hard it is becoming in America to find Jesus at Christmas. We have become a nation that is increasingly intoxicated with Christmas and more and more indifferent to Jesus. And worse, we continue to see signs that Jesus is not only going unnoticed, but he is becoming downright unwelcome.
For those of us who follow the Master, this Christmas we will be pressed to look for Jesus more diligently than ever. We must look beyond the greed and consumerism of an almost hysterical gift buying culture and remember the generous gifts the Magi that were meant to honor the greatest gift ever given as they were laid at the feet of the child king. We must look beyond the Santa-fication of Christmas and remember that St. Nicholas was a simple priest who served the poor with humility in the name of Jesus and died a martyr for his unwavering faith in Christ. We must wade through the media-hyped glitz of Christmas ‘specials’ that pretend to ooze with holiday spirit when in truth they have denied any presence to the one true Spirit that gives the season its meaning. And we must push through the frenetic pace of the season that demands we arrive exhausted and just a little jaded on Christmas Day, and instead be wooed again to a simple manger in a quiet cave near a back-roads town, where the greatest miracle of human existence took place.
Jesus will be present this Christmas to everyone who seeks him. We may just have to look for him with more diligence in a culture that wants to shove him onto a small shelf in a forgotten back room.
Will you seek him with your whole heart this Christmas?
If so, then when you find him (and you will) may you lift your voice and join with the angels in proclaiming to the world that, despite all the efforts to displace and deny him, it is at the name of Jesus that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.