Read: Deuteronomy 4:28-31
Reflect: Over the past few weeks the question “Has anyone seen baby Jesus?” has been repeated daily in our home. All year our kids’ Fisher-Price nativity set sits in a labeled bin, ready to be set up the day after Thanksgiving. We made it all of one week before baby Jesus disappeared. We had the whole crew there: Mary, Joseph, the angel, multiple animals – even the three wisemen were there (a bit early) but the center of the manger scene was empty. We looked under couches and through the trash can since the one year old recently discovered how fun it is to make items disappear to the landfill.
Day after day it sat empty. On day one the kids searched wholeheartedly for Jesus. By the tenth day of me asking where baby Jesus went they pretty much ignored the question and went back to what they were doing. They figured it was a lost cause. They had stopped looking for Jesus. They were content to play with their nativity without the centerpiece. They had forgotten what they were missing as their attention shifted to new toys.
We do this. Don’t we?
Over time we may start to notice that Jesus is not as present in our lives as He once was. He is no longer the centerpiece of our nativity set. When we first notice we may be alarmed. We may start searching and trying to figure out how we got so off track. But then as time passes, we search less. We pray less. We open our Bible less. We just accept the fact that our nativity is missing the most critical piece, Jesus. Don’t get me wrong – we notice that something is off but we become oddly comfortable with the uncomfortable. In fact, we may even begin to replace Jesus’ spot with other things of importance in our life – family, work, our health, money.
But here’s the beauty. Jesus isn’t missing. He has been there all along – just like our Fisher-Price baby Jesus was a mere one and a half feet away from our nativity. We had just been looking in all the wrong places during our feeble searches for weeks. How often do we look in the wrong places when our relationship with Jesus has lost its centerpiece? How often do we just replace Jesus with a new idol that grabs our attention?
As Moses speaks to the nation of Israel he warns them of the danger of losing God as their centerpiece; the danger of their own carelessness in where they were placing their attention. The people are warned that if idol worship persisted – if God was not at the center of their nativity, of their life, then exile from the Promised Land would occur (and did occur eventually during the Babylonian exile of Judah). The people are explicitly told that “There you will worship manmade idols of wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or eat or smell.” (v. 28). If the people wanted idols, then idols are what they were going to find. The people of Israel had stopped looking for God. The center of their nativity set was empty and beginning to be filled with idols of the world.
However, God is merciful. In the same breath, Moses issues the reminder that all is not over even when Jesus is no longer at the center of our nativity. All was not over for the people of Israel who had misplaced their attention to idol worship and were looking for a god in all the wrong places.
“But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the Lord your God and obey him. For the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you” (v. 29-31).
Even though the people of Israel had lost sight of God they are reminded time and time again that God has not abandoned them – they merely need to begin looking in the right places with more than a half-hearted search.
Apply: Is Baby Jesus missing from your nativity set? Has He been discarded off to the side as idols have taken His place? As Christmas nears, reflect on where your attention is. If it is no longer on Christ, then let us be reminded that our Lord is a merciful God. He has not abandoned us. We must return to him in obedience with all our heart and soul and stop searching half-heartedly under the couch.