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What we call the Christmas “closet” is really an attic room—located at the top of a steep set of stairs, with a sloping ceiling, and a bare light bulb for ambiance. She houses the bulk of my congregation’s Advent and Christmas decor.

As a pastor of a congregation that has worshipped in the same building for over a century, one of the passions I have brought to my ministry is to Marie Kondo our building, one room at a time.

The Christmas closet was one of my first targets. Housing cracked and crooked candles, an old stable, no less than three Advent wreath holders, and a puppet theater, the room was filled to the brim—most of the contents impossible to access. With determination and (let’s be honest) glee, I began sorting and hauling items to the local thrift store and our dumpster.

As I tunneled toward the back of the closet I discovered a cardboard box labeled “Nativity: BE CAREFUL!” I pulled apart the flaps to discover a ceramic, three-piece creche in royal tones of silver and gold—Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in the manger.

During my tenure we had never used this nativity in our decor so I undertook some detective work. Apparently the Holy Family had, at one time, been placed beneath the Christmas tree in our gathering space. But the breakability of the pieces, combined with our desire to be hospitable to young children, meant that for years the pieces had been relegated to the closet, where anyone who managed to find them received the warning: here sleeps the baby Jesus, precious but fragile, BE CAREFUL!

I wonder if too often this is how we in the church approach our savior: precious but fragile—necessarily removed from the rough and tumble of our day to day living. The chaos of making a living, spending what we’ve earned, voting for our leaders, expressing our sexuality, and accomplishing all that must be done each day seem certain to chip away at the holy infant, dulling his golden clothes.

So we relegate Jesus, and his holy reign, to the safe corners of our living; to Sunday mornings and (maybe) Wednesday nights, to meal-time and bed-time prayers, to the radio station we listen to on our morning commute.

The story of the gospel is far different. Despite what our nativities tell us, Jesus didn’t arrive in glistening gold, but in a gush of water and blood, to the screams and (perhaps?) curses of his laboring mother, to be laid in scratchy, smelly hay and nuzzled by sheep and pecked by chickens. The Jesus of the gospel seems much more resilient than our nativities portray.

And yet, perhaps the warning is still appropriate. For if this is our savior, we should approach with care. For following this Christ seems certain to overthrow our expectations of what it looks like to live as the people of God.

This is a savior who will poke and prod at our neat and tidy ways of living; who will continually ask questions and tell stories intended to confuse everything we thought we knew; who will overthrow the tables of the status quo and serve as host to the most shocking of guests. This is a savior who will lead us down deep into the messiness of human life and proclaim it good and holy.

Perhaps next Advent I will be brave enough to unbox the Holy Family and return them to our Christmas tree. Perhaps I will be brave enough to trust that Jesus is strong enough to handle the indelicate love of our congregation’s children.

And perhaps today I will be brave enough to set aside some of my care-fullness and invite Jesus to upset some of the neat and tidy closets of my life.

Sarah Van Zetten Bruins

Sarah Van Zetten Bruins is a co-pastor of Trinity Reformed Churcha delightful, quirky congregation called to share Christ’s expansive love while rooted on the northwest side of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Along with her spouse, Benjamin Bruins, she parents three school-age children, while always holding a hot beverage to warm her hands. 

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