by Joe Lehmann, Camp Pastor
On a side table in my living room sits a crèche, a nativity scene carved from Olive Wood that I brought back from Israel nearly 25 years ago. It is small and simple in design. A single palm tree flanks the stable, a star blazes from the peak of the roofline. The animals all face inwards, their front legs bent forward in anatomically impossible positions, heads bowed in worship. The human figures are abstract, their chiseled features so vague that it is difficult to decide who they are meant to be: Mary and Joseph? Shepherds? Wise Men? At the center lies the Christ child, his arms outstretched as if, even as a newborn, Jesus embraced the cross. I confess I’ve walked unthinkingly past this scene far more often than I’ve stopped to look at it over the years. But this year it has become the focus of my Advent meditations.
Last summer, while serving as Camp Pastor for Brookwoods and Deer Run, I was challenged by the idea that we each need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day. As J.D. Greear writes in Gospel, we see the gospel story as the introduction to faith in Christ, as the “kiddie pool” used to be the introduction to swimming. The unspoken assumption is that we first splash around in the Gospels, then dive into the deeper waters of the Epistles as we mature. But the gospel is the whole pool, lake, ocean—shallow at the shore but plunging to unseen depths in the center. Through Jesus, God provided so much more than a way to be reconciled to Him. He also provided the only way that we can continue to walk with him.
In this Christmas season, preaching the gospel to myself has meant letting go of my spiritual history—everything I’ve learned about God, every act of service, every skill—so that I can simply worship. It is a realization that came from placing myself in the crèche scene. In my imagination, I come to the stable and gaze down into the eyes of the Christ child. I wonder what he sees as he looks at me. I realize my clothes communicate neither poverty nor wealth, status nor social position—he cannot distinguish my clothing from my body. The color of my skin is meaningless since he will not perceive color for another 4 months. He does not yet comprehend language, so how can I impress him with my intelligence, learning, or wisdom? And what are my successes or failures to a newborn? At this moment, he is as far removed from me, as inherently “other,” as God.
This is why the angels’ announcement of his birth to the shepherds was an invitation, not a command. What could they have done for the babe? What could they have given him? God had already provided for his needs through Mary and Joseph. Even the Wise Men, with all their wealth and influence, had nothing the child needed or could appreciate. And so, the invitation: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11- 12) And with the invitation, a promise: “You will find.”
The invitation and the promise have not changed. A Savior has been born to you. Come and see. What you’re wearing is fine. You don’t need to clean yourself up. Don’t worry about finding a gift. Just come.
“O Come, Let us adore Him, Christ, the Lord.”
Joe and his wife, Donna (Lehmann), live in Wolfeboro and he recently retired from 30 years of teaching English and ESL. Joe has served on Brookwoods staff for 20 summers! He’s had a lot of different jobs at camp, but most recently he’s served as Camp Pastor, which is his favorite role yet! He’s probably hiked camp’s Yellow Trail loop more than anyone else. His favorite things to do at camp: waterski, drive boats (it comes in handy that his son Phil is the Waterfront Director), and morning worship. In his free time, he loves woodworking, knife sharpening, and splitting wood by hand. Reach out on email, firstname.lastname@example.org