EMMANUEL: GOD WITH US!
Advent and Christmas are seasons filled with many beautiful traditions. Like most families, ours has several that add richness and meaning to our celebrations. One such tradition in the Pajk house is to set up the Advent wreath and manger scene on the first Sunday of Advent. The Advent wreath sits in the middle of the dinner table with a copy of “The Little Blue Book” next to it, and each evening before dinner, we light the appropriate candles and read the reflection of the day. The manger scene is always the focal point in our family room with all of the figures placed in their designated spots. Mary and Joseph staring at an empty manger with ox and donkey sleeping nearby, the shepherds and sheep on the mantle overlooking the scene below, the magi and camel journeying from a table somewhere to the “east”, and baby Jesus unceremoniously stuffed into the hayloft until Christmas morning.
Probably sixteen years or so ago, when the three Pajk boys (our own version of the three “wise” men) were young, we decided to add a twist to the tradition. Instead of stuffing poor baby Jesus in the hayloft, we thought it might be fun for the kids to take turns hiding him around the house, searching for him, and hiding him in a new location until Christmas morning when he would be found and placed in the manger under Mary and Joseph’s expectant and loving gazes. It was a game of hide-and-seek and hide again, in which the boys were eager to participate because whomever found Jesus had the fun of hiding him for the next round with the only rule being that he had to be hidden on the first floor of the house.
Jesus went MIA…
For the first week or so, Jesus was hidden and found with regularity until one day, Jesus went MIA. It had been our 5 year old, Luke’s, turn to hide Jesus, and his two big brothers, and Mom and Dad, couldn’t find him anywhere! Only Luke knew the secret spot and he certainly wasn’t going to divulge the location to those of us searching. After a few days, we mostly gave up looking, hoping that Luke would just make sure that we had Jesus for the manger on Christmas morning. Yes, I realize, that is a lot of hope and trust to place in the reliability of a Kindergartner’s memory, but what’s a busy mom to do?
Sometime, though, during the third week of Advent, while I was lighting the candles on the Advent wreath before dinner, I noticed something tucked inside the edge of the wreath that I hadn’t previously noticed. Was it a pinecone from the wreath or a bit of leftover dinner from the night before? NOPE, it was the elusive BABY JESUS! For over a week, Jesus was right there in the middle of our dinner table where we gathered every night as a family and somehow we overlooked him. Jesus was in our midst, and in our busyness, we failed to recognize his presence.
During Advent, we prepare our hearts to celebrate three different “comings” of Jesus…
During Advent, we prepare our hearts to celebrate three different “comings” of Jesus; when God first came to dwell among us as one of us, the second coming of Jesus at the end of time, and all of the ways, big and small that God reveals himself to us every day. When Luke hid that figurine in the Advent wreath, he didn’t realize that he would be teaching us an important lesson: Slow down. Open your eyes. Jesus is in your midst, even when you aren’t looking for him! It’s not just GOOD NEWS, but the BEST kind of news, that the One who created us and loves us is present to us in our families, friends and strangers, and is dwelling within our very hearts. Do we take the time to recognize that presence within us, within those we know and love as well as those we don’t yet know and love? Truly, Christmas is the powerful reminder of EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US, but God isn’t just with us on this day or during this season, but in every moment of every day! Merry Christmas!