When my daughters were young, one of our favourite Christmas activities was driving around the streets looking at the Christmas lights. For our kids the burning of those Christmas lights was the first sign that Christmas Day is approaching. Our favourite spot was a pocket of houses down the road where every house has made a special effort to create a Christmas lights spectacular.
As we turned into the housing estate one year the kids were really excited, with that excitement that’s unique to 4 and 5 year olds. They’ve remembered the lights from last Christmas and they’re just itching to see Santa and Frosty and Rudolph. But most of all they want to see “baby Jesus”.
First we come to the Frosty the Snowman house. And Frosty is very impressive – a bulbous white snowman with that “I’ve just swallowed uranium” glow softly emanating from his white body and his green nose. Frosty’s good, but we know it’s not gonna be a patch on the baby Jesus house.
We continue driving and come to the Christmas star house. This housing estate is set down low in a valley, so the TV aerials on the roofs extend 10 metres or so into the sky. The people at the Christmas star house have managed to scale their TV aerial and put a vibrant, bright star right up the top. There it sits, an impressive beacon summoning all to come and see. But we know it’s not gonna be a patch on the baby Jesus house.
We head to the end of the cul-de-sac and start heading back down the street, down toward the baby Jesus house. The house sits on a corner, so its decorated on both the sides that face the street. We come to the Santa side. Glowing in the dark is a three-dimensional sleigh and a three-dimensional reindeer lit up by hundreds of fairy lights. It’s the most tasteful display we’ve seen, but we know it’s not gonna be a patch on baby Jesus.
We turn the corner, the sense of anticipation grows, the kids strain forward to see the baby Jesus display. We look up into the garden to where Mary, Joseph and a beautifully lit manger scene appear every year…but baby Jesus isn’t there! Mary’s not there. Joseph’s not there. The manger’s not there. They’ve been replaced by a plywood cutout of Christmas carollers that look like they’ve stepped off the pages of a Dickens novel.
And then we hear the kids puzzled question: “where’s baby Jesus?”
I don’t know why baby Jesus wasn’t there that year. Maybe the person who owns the house wanted a change, maybe the display got broken, maybe they decided not to have any religious themes. I don’t know why but baby Jesus was replaced.
I thought it was a wonderful metaphor for the way consumerism has come to dominate Christmas, and not only Christmas but our lives.
As we head into a new year I want to make sure the Jesus story, with its call to an alternate way of living, is the defining narrative of my life. I don’t want my now teenage daughters to say “Where’s baby Jesus?” but to see the Jesus story in me.