This Christmas, may we find Jesus in the most unlikely of places

December 22, 2017

Greetings, friends of the Mountain Sky Area of The United Methodist Church!

In this Christmas greeting, I first want to say “thank you”. Thank you for the ministry we share together. You inspire me with the ways you are living into Beloved Community, sharing God’s love in tangible ways in the communities you serve. Lives are transformed because of your commitment to faithful discipleship. What a blessing you are!

Each Advent, we are called to prepare our lives to receive Christ once again. I love the nativity story. I love the way it opens me up and sets my heart and eyes on looking for signs of God’s coming.

The question I always ask myself this time of year is: “How is the nativity story being played out in the world today? Where is Jesus this Christmas?”

In 1989, I worked as a campus minister at San Francisco State University. There were several ministers on staff. As the end of my first semester there approached, my Episcopal colleague felt we really needed a nativity scene set up somewhere, to mark not just the end of the semester but also the Christmas season, which often gets overlooked in the midst of finals.

We all agreed but I must admit, I was more than just a bit surprised to find that he wasn’t talking about a small little nativity set, with tiny toy sized camels and sheep. Oh no, my Episcopal colleague had statues of the holy family that were at least four feet high.  He put them on top of the piano, and whenever I went in that room in the dark I was startled by them, thinking that somehow a bunch of frat boys had broken in and were forming a barbershop quartet on the piano top.

The semester ended and we all came back at the beginning of February and the nativity set was all but forgotten. Until our Spring cleaning day in late March. I was outside trimming bushes when I saw something in the juniper bush.  At first I thought it was just some paper that got caught in the gnarly branches, but as I parted the bush to get a better look, I saw that it was a blanket, holding the statue of a baby. There was baby Jesus was in the juniper bush!

None of us noticed, when we put away the nativity set, that Jesus was missing. And here he was, baby Jesus in the juniper bush.
Where is Jesus? Because he just won’t stay put in the manger.

Where is Jesus? Are you looking for him this Christmas? The baby who was born in surroundings of greatest poverty is waiting to be found by you. Do you have the courage to look for him in the places where he is most likely to be found? Are you willing to find him in the depths of human heart and despair and lostness? Places of grief and loss where there can be no easy words of comfort? Those areas of poverty and brokenness and injustice? Because that’s where Jesus is most likely to be found. All those places that are in need of love, compassion, hope, healing, and justice.
Have you seen the baby Jesus? Because he just won’t stay put in the manger. The baby Jesus shows up in the juniper bush, the boy Jesus is on the basketball court, the teen Jesus is riding public transit, the healer Jesus is at work in the hospital, the protective Jesus is parenting, the provoking Jesus is pushing the envelope, the teacher Jesus is in the classroom, the liberating Jesus is leading the way to freedom, the rebel Jesus is heading up the revolution, the confronting Jesus is challenging injustice, and make no mistake, the fun-loving Jesus is turning water into wine so that party can continue.

Have you seen the baby Jesus? Whenever women and men and children are opening their hands and hearts to another, sharing what they have with someone in need, standing up and speaking out for justice, seeking liberation and freedom, there Jesus is to be found. And it’s Christmas all over again.

Where is Jesus?

The Gospel of John reminds us that “the true Light that enlightens everyone is coming into the world. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is cause for great celebration!

This Christmas season, may your eyes and hearts be open, to see the ways Jesus enters our world yet again. May your Christmas be most blessed, and may God’s hope, peace, and healing break forth in your life and in the world as the New Year dawns.

Bishop Karen P. Oliveto