Last Saturday night we discovered that someone stole the Baby Jesus from our outdoor Nativity scene. It was disheartening and frustrating all at the same time. Stealing Baby Jesus from Nativity scenes has actually become something of a national trend the past several years, a puzzling fad to be sure, and one that betrays what is often described as the Christmas spirit. Or does it?
As I’ve pondered this theft the past couple days, it dawned on me that we are all thieves of some sort. As children we may have stolen apples from a neighbor’s tree or candy from the local drug store. Some steal answers off a fellow student’s test while others steal ideas from more creative coworkers. Some break in houses and steal purses, jewelry, and even the medications of the elderly. Some steal another person’s spouse. Plagiarism is a form of theft. Lying is theft of the truth. Downloading music not intended to be free is theft. Withholding an employee’s wages is theft. Bullying, gossiping, posting slanderous remarks on Facebook–all are forms of theft, stealing away respect and dignity from someone else. Armed robbery and Wall Street ponzi schemes are both wretched forms of thievery. A dark and troubled soul walked into a Connecticut school building a few days ago and stole the lives of 20 beautiful little children.
Sadly, we are all guilty of thievery of some sort. Through selfishness and pride, we have all robbed God of glory and honor that were intended just for Him. While it may have begun by stealing forbidden fruit off a tree where everything else was free for the taking, we are all creatures who dwell in a world where thorns infest the ground, where thieves break in and steal, where we feel entitled to the things that belong to others, where a finders-keeperslosers weepers notion prevails in the hearts of so many, but alas there is hope.
I’ve decided to put a cross where the Baby Jesus was in our Nativity Scene. I’ve been preaching to the people I pastor for several weeks not to see a manger without seeing the cross upon which Jesus was nailed. That was His mission from before time. The cross upon which He hung was erected between two thieves. Based on what we know of Roman law, these were not petty thieves because crucifixion was reserved for those who committed capital offenses, so these thieves likely had stolen lives along with whatever else they stole. The Scriptures tell us both thieves initially mocked the One dying between them, though He bled away without a murmur of retaliation. Then something remarkable happened, one thief turned to Jesus and said, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Through the suffocation of Rome’s perfected torture and while taunted from below, Jesus looked at this thief and said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” And on that very same cross, Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” That is the message of Christmas and that is my hope for all of us thieves.
Last week in New York, atheists rented a billboard with a smiling Santa on top and a bleeding Jesus below. The caption with Santa read: “Keep the Merry” and upon Jesus it read: “Drop the Myth.” Less than a century ago, another atheist named C. S. Lewis had a thief-on-the-cross change of heart, causing him to eventually discover that “the Myth is true.” Jesus came and died for thieves and atheists, for you and me. He rose from the dead. He occupies His throne. He rules and reigns. He prays for us. He’ll be back someday. I can’t wait for that Christmas! In the meantime, may your Christmas be Blessed with the hope of Jesus Christ!
Rooting for you,
Pastor Steve Bush