Moving In Closer
By Tara Meyer Dull
December 20, 2022

Amidst the glow of candles, we arranged the traditional plate of frosted cookies and searched for The Charlie Brown Christmas CD. Our three young sons eagerly unpacked bins of decorations, squealing at the discovery of beloved ornaments, toy nutcrackers, and their crimson felt stockings. 5-year-old Jordan’s eyes lit up when he unearthed the Fontanini crèche. He ran to set it up on the dining room hutch. After he’d finished, he proudly called me over to inspect his work. Surprised to see all of the figurines huddled on top of each other in a heap leaning on the manger, I blurted out, “Hmm, it looks very crowded. There’s plenty of room in the stall for you to space them out nicely.”  Jordan’s face fell. In a soft and puzzled voice, he asked, “Didn’t all the people want to get close to Jesus?”
Didn’t all the people want to get close to Jesus?
The music stopped in my head. What exactly was I teaching my son about preparing for Christmas? In my hasty and thoughtless response, I corrected that the proper way to approach baby Jesus was in full reverent posture, from a generously polite distance.
In his beautiful burst of faith, Jordan did what you do when you really love something. You try to get close. Really close. Close enough to touch that baby’s feathery soft skin. Or smell the slightly soured milk on his swaddling clothes (or his full fragrant diaper!) Or perhaps even to see the dried blood on the ground next to the manger from the afterbirth. Moving in close might have meant seeing some of the messy parts of the newborn Jesus. 
Still, it’s pretty easy to get close to that sweet, sleeping Jesus. We swoon at the precious bundle, singing lullabies with the angels. But what about getting close to the 30-year-old Jesus? The scruffy-bearded man walking the dusty streets of Nazareth. The one telling some pretty crazy and confusing stories to describe the realm of God. The one breaking customs and law on a regular basis, infuriating the temple leaders. The one hanging out with questionable characters. The one loving the wrong people in the wrong times and places. The one telling people they needed to forgive sinners 70 times 7.  What does getting close to the grown-up Jesus look like?  Our faith, anchored by Christmas and Easter, centers holidays, rituals, and hymns for getting close to his birth and death. Our creed’s Conspicuous Comma “...born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate…” curiously omits Jesus’s 30-or-so years of living and loving amongst us humans.
How do we move in close to the messy parts of the grown up Jesus? I don’t really know. But I think it looks a lot like a 5-year-old’s determined drive to get a front-row seat. Close enough to see and smell and feel and touch the messy love Jesus taught us so much about. The gift he gave.