Seriously, Where’s Jesus?

A friend and local business owner posted this picture with a half-furious comment on Facebook yesterday:  “Seriously?! Who steals Jesus?!”  The baby Jesus had been stolen from one of the nativity scenes on display in her very lovely fair trade store, Just Good Trade:

The comments that followed from her creative and wise friends were a great combination of frustration, sadness, and hilarious theological musing.  They went more or less like this:

We should pray for the person who steals Jesus.

Stealing Jesus is bad juju … karma will get that person!

Maybe they felt that the creche shouldn’t feature Jesus until he’s born.

It was probably a child who picked it up – it would fit perfectly in a small hand.

Darn that Herod.  He’s at it again!

Look around the store to see if he’s hidden.  I hide my baby Jesus until Christmas morning.

You would have thought the wise men would have seen this coming.

Guess someone needed Jesus.

And my own quip:  The ascension came early this year.

While it is frustrating that anyone would pocket an item from any store, especially one whose economic mission is based around justice and fairness (you can find Just Good Trade on the web and on Facebook!), stealing the baby Jesus seems particularly egregious.

Of course, it seemed immediately clear to me that there’s another lesson obvious in the stolen-Jesus-in-Jacksonville caper:  Is Christmas about Jesus at all anymore?

I ask this question not as a weird-war-on-Christmas soldier.  But let’s be serious:  Shopping for doorbusters on Thanksgiving, setting up inflatable Santas in the yard, and baking cookies and sweets that you don’t eat any other time of year have nothing to do with Jesus.  And this is what Christmas is about for most people.  And really, other than the bizarro-shopping-compulsions, I have no problem with most of our secular rituals around Christmas.  I love setting up our tree (a pagan tradition of old), putting up each ornament and knowing it’s story (from childhood, travel experiences, or life-events), watching the same classic holiday movies  (Miracle on 34th Street, the black and white original, followed by White Christmas and then Christmas Vacation, and so on), listening to all the music nonstop but only after Thanksgiving, eating too much rich food with family and friends, the whole bit.  Love. It. All.

I do also love the Christmas Eve candlelight service in the church where I grew up in South Dakota.  The years I am not there I rest content with the memory of it.  I’ve become enthralled with obscure parts of the Jesus narrative from the gospels, like the genealogy in Matthew (more on that later this season) and the gift of light in a season of substantial darkness.  I have keen memories of setting up the old nativity scene in our home when I was a child, especially the angel who perched atop the wooden barn that my dad constructed to house it all.

My husband said, upon seeing the picture from our friend’s store:  Santa stole Jesus!

Or maybe, as Alfred, the young janitor in Miracle on 34th Street, puts it:  “There’s a lotta bad -isms floating around this world & one of the worst is commercial-ism. Make a buck. Make a buck.”

So, where is Jesus?

It’s pretty clear to me what in all our Christmas hustle is and is not about Jesus.

Let’s not confuse the two.

And in case you were terribly worried about rogue savior-thieves in Central Illinois, I am happy to report that later in the day, my friend reported that Jesus was found hidden behind another larger creche … here he is:  Whew.


About Caryn Riswold

Caryn D. Riswold is a feminist theologian in the Lutheran tradition. She is Professor of Religion and also teaches Gender and Women’s Studies at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Illinois, where she has worked for over a decade teaching undergraduates to think critically and creatively about religion. She earned her Ph.D. and Th.M. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, holds a master’s degree from the Claremont School of Theology, and received her B.A. from Augustana College in her childhood hometown of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

  • Marilyn Webster

    This is such a wonderful, balanced piece. It makes me think of the erroneous lyrics my elder daughter sang to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” when she was 2:” God and Santa reconciled.”

  • Caryn Riswold

    Love it, Marilyn … god and santa reconciled! It’s interfaith dialogue at it’s best. :-)

  • Quaestor

    The baby Jesus wasn’t stolen. Many people don’t place the baby in the scene until Christmas day (eg, check out Nativity scenes in Mexico).

  • pagansister

    I’m retired now and last year we moved to the town both our married children live in plus 1 beautiful grandson! Several years ago we had the children choose the “family” ornaments they wanted as we don’t need a huge tree in our place anymore. Having raised the children in the UU tradition, we had the decorated tree, but instead of celebrating Christmas as the birth of Jesus, we celebrated the birth of all children and the joy of being together, and giving gifts to those we love. We did the Christmas Eve service also for many years. While they were young, Santa was a big deal too, until they out grew it. Just for fun, even though they out grew Santa, they always got a gift from Santa.
    Am so happy baby Jesus wasn’t stolen! Since he was found in a larger creche, perhaps someone was attempting to play a joke.

  • Joyce Honour

    This time of year I really feel that I am native to a different kingdom.that I am here as an ambassador and an advocate for the kingdom of heaven. I get home sick this time of year. Christmas is God’s way of reminding those of us that are so far from home that He remembers us.

  • Martha C.

    I finished reading a Catholic blog and comments on “Ordain a Lady”. Not only was it not Kansas, it was barely Earth! Then I switched to you and read “Where’s Jesus?” Sanity returned! Thank you!