Jesus on a Papier-Mache Caravan

“Excuse me,” I said for the fourteenth time that evening as I made my way through the bustling crowd. I was anxious to see the Christmas parade float a local Christian organization had sponsored and built to participate in the city’s holiday parade. I stepped out of a stroller’s way before scurrying forward to an opening in the mass of onlookers. I had heard how beautiful the floats from this organization are every year. With anticipation, I stood on my toes to see above the hat-covered heads blocking my view. My heart dropped a little as I landed flat on my feet again. After one look, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. The simple white float had an elaborate backdrop covered in shiny tinsel-like papers outlining the form of Joseph, the virgin Mary, and the Christ-child. The glitter and the gold paper-mache reminded me too much of another Christmas caravan I had seen ten years earlier.

It was in South America where I was living at the time. We lived in a quiet neighborhood of stay-at-moms and professional dog-groomers–an advantageous occupation for that neighborhood since everyone, except us, owned a dog–middle-class workers who worked hard every day and middle-class families who kept to themselves. There was low crime in our part of the city, as it was neither very rich nor very poor. People just went on about their lives–washing their dogs, tending their mango trees, and staying out of the heavy humidity as much as possible.

Our neighborhood was also not a very religious one. If asked, most of our neighbors would probably claim Catholicism. But over the weekend, few cars left the neighborhood gates to go to Mass.  So when a commotion sounded down the street, we went to the window, expecting to see a birthday banner strung across a neighboring driveway or mild political demonstration of beating pots and pans.  Instead, we were confronted with nearly the whole neighborhood thronging the narrow street chanting and moving down the street to the strained melody coming from the center of the group.  I watched puzzled.  They didn’t seem upset.  And there were no pots and pans of a traditional “cacerolazo.”  Then I saw the caravan–a flimsy shrine with a papier-mache virgin Mary and Christ-child covered in thin paint and bordered by a string of fist-sized light bulbs.  The paint was peeling and the glitter confetti was spilling out of the threshold of the mobile grotto.  I saw it only for a moment before the garish procession passed our window and continued down the dark street.

So when I stood watching the Christmas parade float, I remembered instead that night when people who cared nothing about the Meaning of Christmas dressed Him up with gold papier-mache and paraded Him through the streets.  It is not just nominal Catholics who ignore Jesus until Christmas.  Mainstream Christianity is guilty of this year-round.  Throughout the year, we live as if Christ doesn’t matter–we forget about His great sacrifice that fill our Christmas carols.  Then at Christmastime, we get Jesus out of the attic and dust Him off, parading our joyous Christianity through  the streets covered in confetti and streamers.  We give Him homage with our “Merry Christmas” and hymn singing.  And then shut Him out of the lives He endowed to us.  Instead of being treated like King and Best Friend, Jesus is relegated to the attic with the rest of the Christmas decorations to be dutifully pulled out next December.  And after all, no one wants Christmas decorations up all year.

How often do you let Christ out of the attic?  Does He only come out at Christmas?  Or perhaps only on Sundays?  Is Jesus just a Name to make you feel spiritual?  Or is He something more real to you than a papier-mache caravan?

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