Possibly every parent's worst nightmare relates to losing a child. Any parent who has ever been unfortunate enough to lose a child, even momentarily, can testify to the intense despair and anguish such an event triggers. 

My wife and I belong to this group; parents who have misplaced their children. Yes, it sounds careless and foolish but it is actually quite easy to achieve. Children can be just downright tricky little items. Believe it or not, we have had the opportunity to enjoy this experience not once, but twice, courtesy of our two sons. By the way, our two daughters have never caused this form of grief, which begs the question, are boys better at becoming lost than girls?

THE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS? Has Jesus become hidden behind the tinsel in the way we celebrate?  PICTURE: barrym67 (www.sxc.hu)

 

"It is easy for us to lose Jesus at Christmas. We can become so busy with buying and wrapping presents, sending cards to long lost relatives who we hardly know, erecting and decorating Christmas trees, adorning our houses with lights in Clark W. Griswald style to the point of blacking out whole suburbs, having our photo taken with Santa, confusing our children with lies about a man in a red suit who will bring them gifts if they are good, buying and preparing food, eating, drinking, celebrating, catching up with family, that we simply lose Jesus among the tinsel and trimmings."

Our first, and possibly most traumatic, episode occurred in a small country town in south-eastern Victoria, at the local swimming pool. (I can sense a collective shiver). Our then three-year-old son managed to avoid the close and careful scrutiny of his mother - momentarily distracted by his three other under six-year-old siblings, to disappear from sight. 

What followed was an intense mixture of panic, anguish, despair and desperate searching. Upon realising that he was out of sight my wife immediately began to look for him, at first assuming he may have simply wandered to a position out of her direct line of sight. As this continued her level of panic increased and she enlisted the help of pool staff and lifeguards. With numerous people searching, calling out, and covering every possible location to no avail, her despair increased further. 

Thankfully he wasn’t in any of the swimming pools, but he also wasn’t in the changerooms. Had he wandered outside into the car park? A race outside verified that he wasn’t there either. Where could he be? By this stage my wife was in full blown panic mode. Had someone taken him? She moved towards the rear of the pool and quietly prayed. As she turned around, she saw the lockers where pool patrons leave personal items. She walked towards them, reached out and opened the first locker. As the door swung open there was the curled-up shape of a blonde-haired, three-year-old. “Surprise!” he shouted. My wife went from panic to relief and then to anger in the space of about two seconds. The experience had probably lasted only three or four minutes and yet felt like a lifetime.

A similar experience happened with our other son when he was only two-years-old. We were shopping with our four children (at this time aged two, four, six, and eight) in a large department store at the time. A certain recipe for disaster. Taking four young children shopping could be interpreted as a sign of lunacy.

While casually shopping, amid pleas to “put that down”, “don’t touch that glassware!”, and “please stop doing that in public”, our two-year-old managed to perform a disappearing act. Similar chaos and panic followed. Store security, public announcements, frantic searching up and down rows, under fixtures, in the foyer - all without success. Until, a lady mentioned that she had seen a little boy inside one of the clothes racks nearby. We raced across to the rack, bent down and looked underneath. No sign of him. Something prompted us to pull the clothes apart and there he was. Perched on the base of the rack, neatly hidden among the clothes. No “surprise!” this time, he had simply withdrawn to a private space to conduct some personal business! Again, panic gave way to relief, which in turn gave way to what could be almost described as anger mixed with joy.

Is this how Jesus’ parents felt when they lost him in Jerusalem in the story described in Luke 2:41-51? They had been to Jerusalem for the Passover feast and started the return journey to Nazareth as a large group made up of extended family members. Unfortunately, Mary and Joseph thought Jesus must have been with others in the group. Everyone must have assumed he was with someone else, and it wasn’t until a day later that they realised he wasn’t with anyone at all. Imagine how they must have felt. 

Immediately they returned to Jerusalem, finding him three days after they originally left (that makes three or four minutes seem rather insignificant!) in the temple, amazing all those present with his wisdom and knowledge. This must have been cold comfort to Mary and Joseph - at that point in time they more likely focused on his  behaviour rather than the fact he was the Son of God!

Reading the Biblical account doesn’t adequately portray the emotion of the event. It almost seems emotionless, simply a retelling of the facts. Yet, take the time to imbue the event with the emotion that must have surrounded it and a vastly different picture emerges. Mary and Joseph must have been distraught. They had lost their son, probably left him in the bustling town of Jerusalem. What could have happened to him in the meantime? Was he safe, had he met with some sort of harm? These thoughts racing through their minds would have brought them to a place of panic, possibly even despair. Just like losing your child at the swimming spool or a shopping centre, but even worse, not realising it for a whole day! Imagine their relief when they finally found him. Were they angry? Quite possibly as this is a fairly natural emotional reaction in such a circumstance. Interestingly the Bible records that Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents where he obeyed them.

In a manner of speaking, it is easy for us to lose Jesus at Christmas. We can become so busy with buying and wrapping presents, sending cards to long lost relatives who we hardly know, erecting and decorating Christmas trees, adorning our houses with lights in Clark W. Griswald style to the point of blacking out whole suburbs (has anyone else seen the Christmas Vacation movie?), having our photo taken with Santa, confusing our children with lies about a man in a red suit who will bring them gifts if they are good, buying and preparing food, eating, drinking, celebrating, catching up with family, that we simply lose Jesus among the tinsel and trimmings. 

Even the Christmas carols once sung with meaning and fervour have been taken over by the world and turned into an event rather than a spiritual, sacred service. In the midst of all this, every now and then we part the branches on the tree we have lovingly decorated and Jesus pops out. “Surprise” he shouts, and we are reminded of the real meaning of Christmas. The meaning that has become lost with the commercialisation and secularisation of what once was an intensely Christian festival. It is all too easy for us to become so busy with doing Christmas as the world would direct that we lose Jesus and maybe a day or two later realise our Christmas celebration was somehow devoid of meaning and without a real centre.

"As Christians we need to reclaim Christmas and imbue our celebrations with significance and a strong, deliberate focus on our Lord Jesus Christ."

As Christians we need to reclaim Christmas and imbue our celebrations with significance and a strong, deliberate focus on our Lord Jesus Christ. We have allowed the world to steal a rich Christian tradition infused with deep meaning and spirituality with hardly a whimper. In fact, it could be argued, that we have even conformed to the secular idea of Christmas, bought into the hype and commercialism, at the expense of our Christian tradition. How have we let this happen? As with many of our great Christian traditions we have simply allowed ourselves to become blinded by the glitz and glitter of the world, tempted by the glittering array of what the world seems to offer. The compromise is subtle but real, and before we know it we are fully immersed in a worldly celebration of Christmas devoid of any real focus on the birth of our Saviour.

What can we do to avoid this situation? This is our time to acknowledge His arrival into our world and all that this miraculous event means to us. In terms of gifts, God’s gift of His Son surely ranks as the greatest ever. Our Christmas celebrations need not conform to the world’s standards. We can make Jesus the centre of our festivities in a powerful way. He can become the focus and fill Christmas once again with significance and life changing meaning. 

Is it such a terrible thing to celebrate Christmas with gifts, tinsel, trimmings and trees? Of course not, so long as Jesus doesn’t take a back seat, or is relegated to the interchange bench to enter the playing field at the appointed time and then retreat back to the role of substitute (to borrow a football analogy). The real danger is that this can happen without us being aware that it has. By all means, celebrate the Christmas season, but do so with Jesus as the focus not as an added, even optional, extra. Centre your celebrations around the birth of Jesus and conform other traditions to this basis rather than the other way around.

Why not make a deliberate effort this year to reclaim Christmas as a Christian celebration? Let’s recapture the real meaning of Christmas, steal Christmas back from the world, take what has been made secular and return it to the sacred domain, search out the Jesus who was lost, and place him in joyous celebration in the midst of all that we do, say, and think. In this way, Christmas can become all that it once was, a glorious, meaningful celebration of the entrance of God into humanity in the form of the child born to Mary and Joseph, known to us as Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord and Saviour.