Taking Jesus Off the Shelf

A few years ago my grandma gave me an old nativity set. Not a fancy one. Just a cheap ceramic one. She bought a bunch of them one year for all her grandkids. My cousin accidentally ended up with an African American nativity set. The rest of us got “white” ones making Jesus a redhead and Mary blond. Not the most historically accurate, the African American one probably would have been more accurate. But I love it because I love my grandma.

I didn’t have much display space this year, so the nativity ended up on our kitchen window sill. Rebekah, my 20-month-old, loves it. She thinks they are dolls I put out just for her. We’ve had a few accidental beheadings, but mostly she just plays with them and hides them around the house. Her fingers are always reaching for them with an admiring “Wooow!” Every day she rearranges them for me. Earlier this week I found Joseph in her bedroom with her other knick knacks.

When she plays with them, we talk about who they are and why they are important. I like to think I am teaching her about the nativity story, but in reality she has taught me so much more. For one thing, when she lines them up on the window sill, instead of posing them in their usual curve, she always has them facing outside. They peer right over the window sill into the wide world outside–beckoning to be set free in our world. It’s like a scene in Toy Story. They look tired being a mere display or knick knack gathering dust.

Jesus is more than a story. More than a piece of art or mythological figure. He came as flesh and blood into our world. He stepped into our story and invited us into his. So often we relegate our faith, along with our Bibles and weary prayer life, to a shelf somewhere to gather dust. We occasionally take them down and ponder them, or turn to them in crisis.

Too often, faith becomes something we identify with–like a political party–rather than something that identifies us. 

When a toddler plays with ceramic figurines, they are sure to occasionally loose a head, or limb, or horn. And I’m ok with that. However, since I have not found my super glue yet, I have a growing pile of broken pieces. Even little baby Jesus is missing an arm (and I have no idea where it went).

But isn’t that life? We are all broken. Life, sometimes due to our own decisions, other times to external circumstances, leaves us broken and battered. Even Jesus, when he chose to come to earth as a baby born into humble beginnings, came to be broken and offered up for us.

In our reverence with stain glass windows and art depicting a serene Mary and Jesus with rings of light around their heads, we sometimes forget the grit. The dust that caked their feet. The weariness in their backs. The taste of intimate betrayal. And the brutal brokenness that offers us wholeness, sonship, and eternal life.

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” – Galatians 4:4-7

Jesus didn’t live and die to be memorialized in art and honored in displays. He lived and died and rose again to set us free. To free the whole world from the chains of sin and despair. And yet, we all too often shelve our faith. With our figurines and Bibles our faith gathers dust. It sits, growing stale in the recesses of our hearts. Buried by pain or busyness or distraction.

What do you need to scrap away this Christmas? Or if life doesn’t allow you a chance to escape circumstances, how can you love through your brokenness? Jesus didn’t turn away from the cup of suffering he knew was coming. Even though he didn’t want to do it, love and obedience propelled him forward and held him on the cross. So how can you (though I am asking myself the same question) love through your brokenness?