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Categorized | From the Pulpit

“Where Shall We Look for Him?”

Rev. Bill Johnson

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

140 S. Main St., Cedar Springs MI 49319

Christmas leaves too quickly for me. I want to stay in the miracle for the whole 12 days. So, I’m still wallowing in the Christmas spirit as we awaken to a new year.

In Grand Rapids during the 1960’s, there were elaborate Christmas displays in the department store windows downtown. The scenes in the windows would annually draw hundreds of young and old to peer at the fascinating, colorful decorations, adding delight for those who needed a break from battling crowds inside the stores. Those scenes came to mind as I reflected on a story in Tracks in the Straw, a collection of Christmas meditations (Ted Loder, Innisfree Press, Inc. 1985, 1997). In one intriguing story, Loder gives us a fresh perspective on the Nativity Scene. He tells of a street in South Philadelphia named Lombard Street, where homes, eateries and small shops exist side by side. In the block between 22nd and 21st streets he recalls a row house with the whole front window jammed with a manger scene. Compared to other houses on the block, at some point the residents of this house had enlarged the window to twice its original size—perhaps to accommodate this exhibit. The painted figures were about three feet tall, he says, and each figure glowed because it was lit from inside. There was a group of shepherds, three wise men, angels and assorted animals. They were all gathered around Joseph and Mary, who were side by side, looking outward, just about where an onlooker might be standing on the sidewalk. How strange! This familiar story was being given a different twist.

What were the creators of this scene trying to say? If you stayed long enough, you might figure it out. There was no manger; no infant Jesus in the scene. 

The creators of that window display were showing an atypical creche in order to make a point. The street is the manger, and if you were standing there looking into that scene, you were standing in the stable, perhaps right next to the manger itself. 

The glowing figures were looking expectantly out on the street for the Christ child, out on the street where the reality is; where the beasts are motorized, the creatures’ milk comes in cartons and plastic bottles; and the wool of sheep is woven into the suits or overcoats worn by the passersby; shepherds are sleeping on steam grates, wise men are dishing out food in soup kitchens; some folks are carrying political protest signs or joining coalitions or serving in churches, doing what they can to change things so someday there might not be homeless people or hungry children or addicted parents.

Is this a true picture of the nativity? Is this the world into which God sent the Son? Is this indeed the world that Christ came to save? Is this where, if the Christ is to be born at all today, he must be born—on Lombard Street, or Main Street, or on every street, everywhere?

On the fireplace mantel in our home, at this time of year, rests a delicate, beautifully crafted creche. Likewise, another holds center stage on the altar table in our sanctuary. This is not wrong. These silent scenes are reminders of what is precious, what is God-sent not just at Christmas, but the whole year round. And yet, the fact is that Jesus was born into conditions much like ours, where politicians argue, travelers seek shelter and children go to bed hungry. The world into which God chose to be born was, and is not made of delicate statues protected by window glass. It is the real world, a world in need of a Savior. The Good News is we live in just the right place—the perfect place—for Christ to be born once more. And we are in the manger.

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