December 5, 2004

Where is God?

A boy went with his family to one of those live nativity scenes at a church. There was a big crowd and he was really anxious to get close to see the live manger scene. Intent on getting as close as he could, he picked his way through the crowd, breaks through the ropes, runs to the manger, and stands there stunned, there’s just a doll. Live animals, live shepherds, live wise men, live Mary, live Joseph.

Jesus is just a doll. Devastated, he grabs the doll, holds it up and shouts, .It’s a fake, it’s not real!.

Another kid.another manger in a town square. This one.s not live, but still really cool. This kid does the same thing. He sneaks past the ropes to the manger scene. He looks in and is alarmed.

This time there’s no baby! The manger is empty.

Where.s Jesus? Where.s God?

Matthew 1

8This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to

Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.

19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20But after he had considered this, an angel of the

Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[3] because he will save his people from their sins.”

22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: .The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel. . which means, .God with us..

Christmas is all about .God with us..

Colossians 1:19 . For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

John 1:14 — The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

It.s the central question of Christmas. If Christmas is all about .God with us,. God becoming flesh and dwelling with us, where is God? Where do we look? Why do we look? How do we look?

I track stories from around the world keyed to words like Jesus, Christian, faith, church, etc. I.m looking for .God with us.. Mostly what I find is stories about churches burning down or closing, pastors and priests getting into trouble, or the apparent merging of conservative Evangelical Christianity with conservative American politics. And then there.s just a lot of bizarre stuff, too, like the spirituality of food.

From the Miami Herald a couple of weeks ago:

MIAMI (Reuters) – An online casino won the eBay bidding for a decade-old cheese sandwich bearing what some people consider a likeness of the Virgin

Mary and immediately began hawking Virgin Mary

Grilled Cheese T-shirts.’s bid of $28,000 was the highest offer for the sandwich when bidding closed late on

Monday, the Internet casino’s Web site said.

The seller, Fort Lauderdale, Florida resident Diana

Duyser, says she made the cheese sandwich 10 years ago and after taking a bite, saw “the Virgin Mary staring back at me.”

In her eBay ad, Duyser said the sandwich has been kept in a plastic case for a decade and has developed no mold or bacteria. “It is like a miracle,” she said.

“I would like all people to know that I do believe that this is the Virgin Mary Mother Of

God,” the ad said. “That is my solemn belief, but you are free to believe that she is whomever you like, I am not scamming anyone.” said on its Web site that the “sacred sandwich” had received more than 1.7 million hits since being posted on eBay. The company’s chief executive, Richard Rowe, said the sandwich would be used to raise money for charity.

The T-shirts, in various styles bearing a picture of the sandwich and a logo, sell for $19.99.

“We believe that everyone should be able to see it and learn of its mystical power for themselves,” Rowe said.

What do you say, exactly? .Hail Mary, full of cholesterol?.

But wait, there’s more. From the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Fish-stick Jesus up for sale on eBay

Wednesday, November 24, 2004 – Page A16

Kingston, Ont. — An Eastern Ontario man is hoping to make a bit of money by auctioning a fish stick he says looks like Jesus.

Fred Whan burned the fish stick at dinner a year ago, and his son remarked that the burn mark looked like Jesus. Mr. Whan kept the fish stick frozen and decided yesterday to thaw it out to sell on eBay.

“As soon as you look at it, you see a face in it,” Mr. Whan said.

And then there.s this story from Adelaide, Australia:

Baby Jesus to return to display


IT’S not quite the second coming but baby Jesus will return to the South Australian Brewing Company’s Christmas display today. Baby Jesus was stolen last week from the brewery’s traditional display along Adelaide’s River Torrens and despite the thief being captured on surveillance cameras has not been recovered.

Now the brewing company has found a replacement which will be blessed and placed in the nativity scene this morning.

Brewing company managing director Mark Powell said despite a reward of six cases of beer being offered for the return of the original Jesus there had been no leads.

“We want to make sure that the riverbank Christmas display is complete for the enjoyment of the community and as we have not been given any leads as to the whereabouts of the original baby Jesus, we have taken the decision to install a replacement,” he said.

“The reward of six cases of West End Draught will, of course, remain in place for the return of the original Baby Jesus.”

I think it.s interesting: looking for God.for manifestations of the a grilled cheese sandwich and a fish stick . in food.a story about a manger with no Jesus.and then a replacement Jesus. The irony.s not too difficult to imagine.

Do you ever feel sort of like that around Christmas? Looking for some manifestation of God? Looking for Jesus? Wondering if it.s all real? Finding an empty manger? Making do with a replacement Jesus?

How we deal with those questions, and whether Christmas really means all that much for us depends largely on how, when, why we look.

Pain and struggle don.t go on Christmas vacation. Actually, for a lot of people, pain and struggle work overtime this time of year. Relational loss or career failure or feelings of fear and sadness we don’t want to face, our country at war.and for a lot of people, God feels far away. We disguise our hurt with some lights, a few cookies and songs to make everything look okay. False bravado. Biggest and most presents. Deep down, we look for God in the midst of all this stuff.

We want God to be real and present. And either we get some help figuring out where to look for God and how to look for work with our questions.or we become cynical.we stop paying attention or we don.t think it.s real or that it works.

Where to look.?

Matthew 2

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[1] from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east[2] and have come to worship him.”

3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ[3] was to be born. 5″In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6″ ’But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’[4] ”

7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Herod.s way: Let others look. Send others to look. Report back. I.m busy, just give me the executive summary, tell me the bare minimum, and I.ll go worship (or perhaps not).

Herod never actually sees Jesus. I wonder. do we? No wonder the Magi were called wise. They had power, too (the song calls them .We Three Kings,. yet they came humbly, subordinating their power and their wealth, and staring into the

darkness of the night sky on a journey to find .God with us..

Luke 2

8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[1] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Where, how and why to look. Maybe the Magi and the shepherds have a clue for us. I.m not so sure that God is incarnate in grilled cheese sandwich or fish stick. Possible? Sure. But the wise men and the shepherds seem to tell a different story.

The prophet Isaiah says it this way:

Isaiah 9

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. Third shift shepherds.bottom of the economic food real home . just their tents when off duty.kind of discarded and misplaced the terror.

And led to the same discarded, misplaced, out-of-the-way manger . not a palace . as the Magi.

Maybe that.s our clue this Christmas for where to look:

Is there a place of darkness in this world that concerns you?

Is there a place of darkness in your life that terrifies you?

Do the words .discarded. or .misplaced. evoke anything in you . in relation to your self or someone else?

The Magi and the shepherds clue us in to look deeply into those places.deeply into the dark night sky of this world and into the dark night sky of your life.a place into which it will be terrifying to look.

The Magi and the angels and the shepherds clue us in to look deeply into the discarded and misplaced places of this world and the discarded and misplaced places of your life or another.s life.

And maybe there.more than in a grilled cheese sandwich and a fish stick. and maybe precisely in the emptiness of an empty manger the emptiness that afflicts this world and afflicts so many lives filled with replacement saviors. maybe there is where we are called to look.and to ponder.and to wait to see God revealed there.

Can you imagine walking up to a manger scene outside a brewery.or in the town square.or in the mall.or on someone.s frozen front lawn.plastic wise men.plastic shepherds.plastic angels.plastic Joseph.plastic Mary.and bending over.kneeling down.and finding a real baby there? We are always shocked to meet life where we think there isn.t any.

Maybe that.s where God is this Christmas. Life where we think there isn.t any. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned. To them, a child is born.