From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Spirituality: 'Where's Baby Jesus?'

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the Jan. 16, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Twice in as many months an attentive school child has asked me, “Where’s Baby Jesus?” The first time was on Christmas Eve: the Infant was not in his crib in the crFche next to the altar. A pre-Mass procession, however, answered the little dude’s question. The figurine was placed lovingly placed in the manger. The child smiled approvingly.

The second time the question came was this week, just before our weekly parish Mass with the students from our school. This time, Baby Jesus wasn’t the only thing missing from the crèche. The entire crèche itself was gone! So, too, were the glistening tree, the red banners, and the field of poinsettias whose generous blossoms had brightened many an eye during the Christmas season.

Faithful to the liturgical tradition of the Church, the parish pushed the celebration of the Word Incarnate right up to the last day – the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Now Baby Jesus is packed away in a sacristy cupboard. And that’s where I showed my first grader where he could find the Infant. The student passed out the door with a half-satisfied look on his face. The world seemed to have fallen back into some order – at least, until another mini-crisis sprang in his young life.

Almost as soon as this child disappeared down the hall, I kicked myself for missing an opportunity to give him a more appropriate answer. What if, after pointing out to the boy where the figurine of Baby Jesus was packed in bubble wrap, I had answered, “Jesus lives in your heart and the way you act”? People learn best when they are asking questions. (I missed a catechetical moment, for sure.)

Obviously, Jesus never really was present in the plaster of Paris figurine which was the focal point of our well-decorated Christmas crèche. My little friend, however, seemed to need an assuring reminder of where Jesus was. Perhaps the boy merely wanted to know where the figurine was hiding. Maybe he thought Jesus had abandoned him. In the little kid’s world, sometimes reality is warped a bit.

The end of the liturgical season may dictate the need to take Jesus out of the Christmas crèche, but we dare not take him out of our lives. So much emphasis is placed on Baby Jesus in the manger during the Christmas celebration – so much so that we may be tempted to ignore the rest of the story. It’s relatively easy to keep Jesus in our hearts at Christmas – even to the point of loving one another a bit more generously. Only to our spiritual detriment, however, can we pack away references to him with the decorations boxes.

The Church wisely ends the Christmas season and moves us into “ordinary time” by marking the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by his cousin, John. It’s the Church’s way of reminding us that the Babe in the manger, the Word of God Incarnate, did not remain a baby whose mere presence assured our salvation. The Baby in the manger grew “in wisdom and in grace.” Anointed by the Spirit he shared with his heavenly Father, Jesus set out on mission to announce and bring about the Kingdom of God. He breaks open for us all a way of living and relating to one another that blesses us with present and everlasting life.

The Babe in the manger is the One who eventually ministered, suffered, died, rose from the dead and returned to the Father from whence he has shared his Spirit with his followers. That’s the important rest of the story.

In a sense our attention returns once again to ordinary time – from the crèche to the altar of sacrifice where the faithful unite themselves continuously with the death and resurrection of the Savior born of Mary in Bethlehem. In turn, the Eucharist sends us, too, on mission to the ends of the Earth - to announce God’s favor and to foster his Kingdom for any and all who stand in need of forgiveness of sin and fullness of life.

“Where’s Baby Jesus?” is not a question reserved to inquisitive first graders. It is a question all us believers could well ask ourselves these days of ordinary time after the festive celebration of Christmas. Living faith cannot be packed away in bubble wrap and stuffed in a closet.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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