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Jesus is Missing

What our family learned by solving the mystery of the empty manger

The boxes of Christmas decorations were carried up from the basement.

I had to go to church, so the serious work of Christmas-izing our home would have to wait until I returned. In the meantime, our 5-year-old daughter, Lauren, was content to play with a miniature plastic nativity set we keep in an old Lifesavers tin. When I arrived home, I was greeted by my wife, Wendy, and the inviting aroma of dinner. Stealing a peek at the table, I saw that Lauren had placed pieces of the nativity set at each person's plate. Apparently shepherds, wisemen, cows, and sheep would be joining us for dinner?very sweet.

Just then Lauren raced into the kitchen. "Oh, Daddy, Daddy!" Her voice was panicked. "Jesus is missing! We've looked everywhere and can't find him!" She was right. As I glanced at the supper table, I didn't see baby Jesus anywhere. "We'll find him," I said, sure that he was stuck under the couch cushions or behind a chair somewhere. "Let's look after we eat!"

And look we did. Low and high. High and low. Under the couch. In the plants. In the Barbie playhouse. We scoured Lauren's coloring desk cluttered with stickers, markers, crayons, and a half-full can of pop?everything but Jesus! As my compulsive find-whatever-is-lost-at-any-cost neurosis kicked in to high gear, I zeroed in on Lauren's backpack.

Much like her older sisters, Lauren carries her backpack everywhere she goes. In it she transports her treasures: Hairbows. Hats. Barbies. Her stuffed kitty. Her Polly Pockets. Her plastic wallet. Gummi Bears. I decided to look in the backpack. There, at the bottom of her treasure trove, was Jesus. "Here he is!" I proudly announced. "Jesus was in your backpack, ready to go with you to preschool tomorrow."

I've often reflected on the search for our MIA Jesus, and I now realize that he wasn't "missing in action" at all. He was in the middle of the action. His place in Lauren's backpack was divinely appropriate. There, in the midst of all the symbols of my daughter's interests and activities, was the Lord of life. And that reality extends beyond 5-year-old girls.

As we face a new year crammed with commitments, each of us can begin the year confident that Jesus is right there in the middle of it all. As much as it drives us crazy not to have the Jesus piece in its proper place in the creche (or at the dinner table), he belongs in our minivans, briefcases, purses, gym bags, suitcases, and checkbooks. God's uncontainable love for his creation spilled over into a manger, a carpenter's shop, a fishing boat, a tax collector's home, a Roman execution scene, a rich man's grave, and an upper room. The good news of Christmas that catapults us towards Easter (and beyond) is that we are not alone. The one who made us has come to us and remains with us in all that we attempt.

I have friends who display their nativity scene all year long, but without the baby Jesus. On Christmas Day their youngest child opens a tiny box under the tree that is labeled "from God with love." Inside the brightly wrapped package is the "missing" Jesus. For the rest of Christmas week the nativity scene in their home is complete. Maybe, as we pack away our Christmas decorations, we should go ahead and box up Mary and Joseph with the shepherds and wisemen, but leave Jesus on display. What a great reminder that the message of the manger shouldn't be relegated to the basement for 48 weeks of the year. The fact that Immanuel ("God with us") resides with us every day is news worth celebrating all year long.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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