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I know that some of you saw the title of the Tuesday Letter this week and just shook your head. How could we still be talking about Christmas? Most of you took your tree down a week ago. All your neighbors, with the exception of a few diehards, already put their Christmas lights away. Last week the stores started adding Valentine’s merchandise to their shelves. And we are just a few short weeks from the beginning of Lent, so surely it is time to let Christmas 2022 slip into the scrap book of memories.

But for the Bell family, our Christmas had one last big hurrah this past weekend- what we affectionately call ‘Miller Christmas.’ Once a year, my brothers and I bring our families together for a day of feasting and fun and all things family. This year, we gathered at my brother’s home in Virginia where his granddaughter was the center of attention. Maggie Rose is just days shy of her first birthday. She cooed and crawled and successfully captured all our hearts. Last year when we gathered, Maggie had not yet made her appearance, so the Fisher Price Nativity set that we gave her did not get opened. That gift was stored away with all her parent’s decorations to wait for a Christmas 2022 unveiling.

When the box was opened in early December, it had the right number of pieces, just not quite the right kind. To be specific, the set had 5 wisemen, but no shepherd and no baby Jesus. It is never a problem to have extra wisemen. We have no idea how many wisemen there were on that journey across the desert, so the more the merrier! And the missing shepherd, perhaps he was the one who stayed behind with the sheep. But how do you have a nativity scene without the star of the show- little baby Jesus? To rectify this anomaly, my niece purchased a Fisher Price baby Jesus on eBay, complete with manger and hay. As I listened to my niece tell the story of this odd nativity set, I began to wonder:
Who got our baby Jesus in their set- giving them extra Jesus? 
What would you do with extra Jesus? 
Why would someone sell their baby Jesus on eBay? 
How much does baby Jesus go for these days? 
All this made me wonder: how many families celebrated this year without Jesus in their nativity?

The Gallop poll tells us that 93% of Americans celebrate Christmas, but an increasing number every year celebrate without baby Jesus. In 2021, only 35% of Americans said that their celebrations centered on the birth of Jesus. For most, Christmas is an opportunity for the family to gather, feast, exchange presents, take pictures in front of the tree, and enjoy the ‘season’, but the birthday boy is often forgotten in all the fuss and bother. I am thankful for those who visit with us at Lenape Valley on Christmas Eve, even if that moment of worship is their only visit to church all year. At least for that moment, Jesus is allowed to be part of the nativity. Every year, I hope this will be the year when the good news hits home and Jesus is allowed to stay. As we serve up ‘Happy Birthday Jesus cake’ at the end of the service, I hope we can give them a little extra Jesus to take home.

Christmas, by definition, is the celebration of the coming of Jesus the Christ. If there is no Jesus in Christmas, what is left is what our culture calls ‘X-Mas.’ In math, ‘X’ is the unknown variable. The goal in math is to work the problem until you find the value for X, but many in our culture have no interest in discovering the One who is the ‘X’ in the season. In science, ‘X’ is the missing factor that makes it all work. Some scientists spend their whole lives looking for the ‘X’ factor. But again, there seems to be a dwindling interest in discovering the ‘X’ who brings life and light and grace into the world. I suspect that most of us have family and friends who have settled not just for an X-Mas season, but also for an X-Mas life. How did we end up with so many nativity sets with no baby Jesus?

A bumper sticker reminds us: The Wise Still Seek Him. As we begin 2023, may we join those wisemen of old, who crossed a desert to find the King. May we have ears to hear His voice, eyes to see His face in those around us, and hearts open to receive Him in new and deeper ways. And may we be generous with that Gift, so that those we know and love will meet Jesus through our lives. The real Jesus can’t be sold on eBay, but I am wondering do we have a little ‘extra Jesus’ that we would be willing to share?

With you committed to sharing Jesus in 2023,

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