Today’s challenge for us as writers was an assignment to write about either a favorite Christmas memory or a favorite Christmas news story. My most memorable Christmases are not exactly Hallmark card moments.
I'm talking about a snowstorm that left me stranded, a burnt turkey, a bottle of expensive perfume that made me ill, a TV that caught on fire the first time it was plugged in — you get the idea.
I struggled to recall a favorite Christmas news story. Finally, I remembered a series of stories I wrote as a crime reporter for a newspaper in Western New York years ago. Someone was stealing baby Jesus figures from life-size nativity scenes at area churches.
Call it dumb luck or maybe divine intervention. In one case, a police car was driving by just as a someone was kidnapping baby Jesus from the front lawn of a Catholic church. The suspect led two officers on a foot chase as he fled into a small wooded area nearby. Just as police apprehended him, he tossed the holy figure into a creek.
Baby Jesus – on his back with arms outstretched – quickly sailed down the creek and was carried out of sight. He was later found in a neighborhood a few blocks down, where he came to rest on an embankment.
The absurdity of what happened wasn’t lost on the priest, who obviously had a sense of humor.
After baby Jesus was back in his manger at the church, the priest declared: “It’s a miracle!”
What the thief did was criminal and disrespectful. But a friend and I had quite a few laughs over the story, sarcastically saying it was one of the best I'd ever written.
I didn't know at the time, but stealing baby Jesus is apparently a thing. Every Christmas season, a rash of these thefts occur all over the nation. Most of them are dismissed as pranks.
Why did a church issue a missing persons report on Jesus?
The First Baptist Church of Crestview in Florida is using a humorous approach to try to recover their missing baby Jesus figure this year. The Crestview News Bulletin explains:
“Missing persons fliers were scattered around Crestview on Wednesday after a baby Jesus was stolen from his manger at a local church’s Nativity scene.
The Rev. Jeff Childers, an associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Crestview, said he went out to the Nativity scene at 12:40 p.m. Tuesday and discovered the baby Jesus was gone.
Childers said the church’s media specialist, Sheena Faircloth, had visited the manger at 12:15 p.m. and the baby was still there.”
Then, the punchline.
He was a Walmart Jesus.
“Somewhere in that window someone walked up, picked up the baby Jesus and left,” Childers said. “He was just purchased at Walmart this year.”
That is so metaphorically complex and funny and sad. Perhaps it’s funny because people can steal a baby Jesus from a nativity scene, but they can never truly take the real Jesus from Christmas – or from anywhere else – no matter how hard they try.