Was there ever a time when the holidays were not busy? Probably not. I suppose if we went back to the very first Christmas we would find a great deal of hurried busyness: Joseph was out sitting in the garage on the donkey, honking the saddle horn, doing his best to hurry Mary along just a bit.
She was inside packing one more bag for the holiday trip to visit Joseph's neurotic family in Bethlehem. Of course she was moving as fast as she could. A woman better than eight months pregnant, who was planning an excursion over field and fountain, moor and mountain, was moving nowhere very quickly.
But there were places to go, people to see, and history to be made. So Mary and Joseph hurried on their way into the throngs of people who had gathered in the famed City of David for the census demanded by the Roman authorities.
The story is as familiar as our own children's names. Upon their arrival there was no room for Mary or Joseph at the local Econolodge. So they checked the Fairfield. Strike out. The Motel Six? Nope, not there either. The young couple was forced into being squatters at the local KOA campground. There Jesus was born, ignominiously into a Palestinian backwater. All the while the counting of people, taxes, sheep, and profits went on unhindered. The world was too busy to note his arrival.
Several Christmas seasons ago I was very busy at the hospital where I worked. There was a high census of patients. There were extraordinary cases in the Intensive Care Unit and Emergency Department. The entire staff was attempting to coordinate help for patients who would not have a Christmas for their families.
In our busyness, we were on the verge of overlooking the old "reason for the season." Then, one of the hospital volunteers, unknown to her, brought us a much needed reprieve and put a smile back on everyone's face. She came rushing into the Pastoral Care office with the panicked words, "Jesus is missing!"
At first, I thought someone had taken a crucifix out of one of the hospital rooms when they discharged to go home. It happens more times than you might imagine. As a person packs their bags, sometimes Jesus finds himself among a patient's personal belongings. But no worries; the hospital keeps a whole box of Jesuses in a hidden cabinet to replace the stolen ones. Such theft doesn't bother me. I figure if a person needs Jesus enough to steal him off the wall of a hospital, then by all means, take him.
But the missing Jesus this volunteer spoke of was the baby Jesus from the Nativity scene. Everyone was there: Mary, Joseph, the magi, shepherds, sheep, donkeys, angels - all the usual suspects. Except for Jesus. The manger was empty. Our volunteer concluded that he had been stolen from his crib while sleeping. The Christmas carol says the shepherds were watching and guarding Jesus - but apparently not in the hospital chapel.
To the volunteer's relief, it was quickly clarified that Jesus was not missing. He simply hadn't arrived yet. Baby Jesus was wrapped, not in swaddling clothes, but in shrink wrap and stuck in drawer. He was safe and sound waiting for Christmas Day before making his grand entrance. We, along with all the Nativity scene characters, wait for him until then.
In your own heart Jesus may be locked away, collecting dust in some dark little corner. You may have grown so busy that you have not even thought of him since last year (or at least since Easter). If so, I think he's do an unwrapping, don't you?
Break the packaging. Knock off the dust. Get him out of the drawer. Let him take his place at the center of this Advent season, and at the center of your life. We may be busy, but not so busy that we forget to "glorify and praise God for all we have heard and seen" in this child born in Bethlehem.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author. His books include "Leaving Religion, Following Jesus" and "The Jesus Tribe." Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.