To the Person Who Tried to Steal Jesus

On Saturday, December 18th, as my wife and I tidied up a few things for the next day’s worship, my kids came running into the church sanctuary: “Baby Jesus was stolen!”

“Really? One week before Christmas?” Sure enough, it was even worse than we thought. We know it was not bad wind or a curious dog because not only is the baby Jesus missing out of the large Nativity scene on our church’s front lawn, but also the manger, a lamb, and one of the two signs advertising our Christmas Eve Service.

We believe that the Bible’s message about Jesus is true, so he is alive in heaven today and will return again. He is our king and we bow our hearts before the real Jesus just as the wise men and shepherds bowed down to him when he first came. So you can steal a figure, but you can’t steal the real Jesus.

As we shared about the loss on our church’s Facebook page, hoping somebody might find the figures thrown somewhere in town, it became obvious that this was a discouragement to more than our church family. The Nativity scene was a labor of love from a team of people from our church, attempting to share with our community the humble story of God coming down to live with us and redeem us.

So I want to say a few things to the person who tried to steal Jesus from us:

You can’t steal Jesus. We know that the figure was only a representation of what happened that first Christmas night. The Bible tells us that the real Jesus was not only born, God become flesh, but that he grew up and became a man who lived a perfect life, then died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins and later rose from the dead. We believe that the Bible’s message about Jesus is true, so he is alive in heaven today and will return again. He is our king and we bow our hearts before the real Jesus just as the wise men and shepherds bowed down to him when he first came. So you can steal a figure, but you can’t steal the real Jesus.

You can’t steal our joy. It made my children and others sad to think of the figure of Jesus being the one stolen. But sadness can mingle with true joy, and this doesn’t take away our joy. Our joy is not dependent on traditions or circumstances. The manger scene can sit empty or we can look around at the difficulty in our country right now or even grieve losses like death or divorce and still have joy because our joy is dependent on knowing God through his son, Jesus Christ. The night before Jesus went to the cross he taught his scared disciples a truth we continue to hold onto: “You have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:22) The sorrow of the crucifixion was eclipsed by the joy of the resurrection. The sorrow of disease and sin in our world will one day be eclipsed by the joy of heaven. Giving invincible joy is one reason Jesus came.

You can’t take away the meaning of the Christmas story. The sign taken had the word “HOPE” in large letters above a representation of a nativity scene. The reason we believe that the coming of Christ brings us hope today is because of what the angel told Joseph, the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:23) Many today wonder where God is as they look at the sin in the world around them and the effects of sin on a world God had originally made perfect. But God isn’t aloof. He actually entered our world and wasn’t born in a palace, but found his first cradle in a feeding trough, a manger. This brings us hope today–that God cares, that God has come, that he is active today, that he loves us today, and that his promises in the Bible are true. The meaning of the original Christmas story is that God came to earth as a human. He didn’t come as we would have expected. His first worshipers were a poor young couple, foreign kings, and stinky shepherds. But he came in a way that shows his care for those who are discouraged and marginalized and down-and-out. This gives us a hope that can’t be stolen.

You are loved. Whether or not you return the figures or even can at this point, I want to tell you that you are loved. We have been praying for you, and not with hatred. We have been praying that a heart that would hate Jesus this much or not be aware of what the Christmas story represents would be a heart that would be broken in order to be healed with the unconditional love of the Jesus you tried to steal. Jesus interacted with thieves. There was one on either side of him on the cross. One mocked him, but the other believed in him. And Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) He has that kind of power, to forgive sins and give eternal life. Jesus didn’t come for people who had it all put together, but for people who realize they are sinners and need God himself to enter our world to rescue us. That is how deep his love is, a love we can receive if we will come to him.

You can’t steal the real Jesus. But through this, we are praying that he might steal your heart.

A Thrill of Hope, the Weary World Rejoices!

This article will be featured in the December 25, 2020 edition of The Manchester Journal, our local paper.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a year that has made us weary. Whether your weariness is social, economic, physical, relational, job-related, screen-related, or a combination of all of these and other reasons, “wearisome” is probably an apt description of your 2020. Experts talk about “pandemic fatigue,” but we might not even read their articles because we are fatigued of thinking about fatigue. While I was writing this article, a news notification popped up, “Can you get coronavirus from Christmas cards?” Mercifully, the basic answer is no, but one year ago who would have ever thought we would have this kind of low-grade stress constantly in the back of our minds? However you are celebrating Christmas this year, you and I are bringing all of that into this holiday season. In the midst of this weariness, however, there is one Christmas carol line that keeps coming back to my mind: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices!”

This line from O Holy Night is talking about a hope that is just as true and vibrant today as it was the night that Christ was born. The Bible tells us that two of the reasons that Christ came were to bring hope through personal peace today, and forever peace in heaven. We get wearied by our lack of personal peace. We wonder if there is a God who cares. We wonder if anything that happened in Bible times has anything to do with us today. Christmas reminds us that God cares, and God acts for us—today. The Gospel of Matthew explains the relevance of an ancient prophecy, written 700 years before Jesus in the book of Isaiah: “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”

The reason that Christians celebrate Christ’s birth is because we believe what the Bible teaches, that it marks the entrance of God into the world in human flesh. Jesus entered into our suffering world, and after living a perfect life of love, died on the cross at the time the Passover lambs were being sacrificed, as “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The Bible explains in Romans 5:1 why this matters today, after talking about Jesus’s death and resurrection:  “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the gift of God to all who will receive it: our sins are paid for and we are accepted by God as our father. Because of Jesus we can live life knowing that God is for us and with us no matter what kind of suffering or what kind of year we are walking through.

But the message of Christmas doesn’t end with an earth that is so susceptible to viruses and suffering and sin. The thrill of hope isn’t just for now. The weary world rejoices because one day it will be made new. We celebrate Jesus’s first advent, his first coming, now, but the Bible promises that one day, he will come to earth again—his second advent. He will make all things new and create a new heaven and new earth where we will be safe from sin, and suffering, and death. This is God’s Christmas gift to us, encapsulated in the memorable words of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

On Christmas Eve in 1871, during the Franco-Prussian War, an unarmed French soldier jumped out of the trenches, walked onto the battlefield, and sang the first line from O Holy Night in French. After he sang all three verses, a German soldier emerged and sang a popular German carol, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” The story says that both sides then joined together in singing an Austrian carol. The battle stopped for the next 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day. Temporary peace was initiated by O Holy Night.

Wouldn’t it seem too good to be true if peace were initiated not just for 24 hours but for today and for eternity? The gospel always sounds like the best news you’ve ever heard once you understand it. That is the truth Christians celebrate at Christmas, that Jesus came to bring personal peace today, and forever peace in heaven. That is the best reason for a thrill of hope, and for a weary world to rejoice. In the weariness of 2020, may you find peace in Christ this Christmas.

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