My wife and I have come to the Christkindlmarkt in Bethlehem, PA – a hugely popular holiday destination in the shadow of the old steel mill. Not being much of a shopper, I have given myself a goal: to see if I can find any reference to Jesus in this commercial celebration of Christmas.
It’s not easy. There are ornaments of all kinds: glass-blown, hand painted, olive wood, beeswax. There are signs and stockings and Santas galore. But Jesus?
To my surprise, here he is -- the tiny babe, laid out on a table at the feet of Mary and Joseph. Draped with a royal robe. Covered with sparkles.
In a way, I get it. He is, after all, the king of the universe. He should be draped in robes and crowned with jewels. But we’ve lost Jesus in the sparkles and finery of season. We’ve trapped him by our trimmings. And if we were to excavate him from under the last century of secular traditions, we still would have to strip away the layers of religious sentimentality – a spotless babe in sweet-smelling hay surrounded by cute animals and bathrobed shepherds standing just outside the shaft of light descending through the convenient hole in the roof of the barn.
But standing here, the abandoned mill reminds me of the real world that Jesus was entering. One of unstoppable decay. Of ruin. Of death. Where a despot king rules with unimpeded violence. Where a poor family flees for their lives. Where people suffer from leprosy. And even children are harrassed by demons.
Doesn’t translate well to a beeswax ornament.
Across the street from the old mill is an arch that reaches toward the decrepit factory. It is my favorite nativity image to take away from this trip. For it is a powerful arm of steel reaching toward the decaying world of steel. Something new and stronger is coming.
Jesus isn’t just a helpless baby arriving in a broken world. He is the power of God to redeem it.
Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him. (Psalm 98:1)
So, I found the wrong Bethlehem. But the right Jesus.
Lord Jesus, only you are the hope of the world for you were not only the gentle babe in a manger, but the holy arm of God, reaching to redeem a world gone wrong. Help us during this time of Advent to worship you for all that you are.