Jesus is missing.
We’ve unpacked all the decorations, hung the bulbs and lights on the tree, arranged the Christmas carolers on a shelf, looped artificial evergreens around the banister and smacked a wreath on the front of the house.
No Jesus. Can’t find him anywhere.
We bought him at a downtown dime store on our lunch hour the first year we were married, along with Mary and Joseph. Mary and Joseph came undone long ago, but baby Jesus held on.
Plastic. About 2 inches by 3 inches. Bright blue eyes, pink lips and full head of blond curls. He looks nothing at all like a true newborn, let alone a Middle Eastern Jewish newborn, but still. We have history together.
Until now. No Jesus. No peace.
There’s only so much hunting, fretting and stewing you can do before it’s time to move on. Still, it nags me that he is nowhere to be seen.
I dash to the grocery store, throw it in park, grab my wallet, cell phone and list. A Salvation Army bell ringer greets people with a big smile on the way in. Not now. I’m stressed by my own carelessness and in a hurry.
I race down the aisles, grab things and get in line. It’s the cashier with the bad teeth. Sometimes they hurt so that she squeezes the side of her head against her neck. Counter pressure to the pain. She has four teeth that need pulling but hasn’t had the money. As we talk, she says a health clinic run by a church downtown pulled her bad teeth. She feels better now. The constant pain is gone. She looks good today. She’s a stern woman, but I almost thought I saw her smile.
On the way out the door, I nearly smack into a woman who stopped abruptly by the bell ringer. I maneuver around her and see she is rustling through her handbag. She pulls out a couple of greenbacks, carefully folds them and tucks them into the red bucket.
“Merry Christmas!” the bell ringer booms.
The sun is setting and traffic is stalling. The wait at the stop light by the row of fast food franchises is interminable.
The usual characters are out, the ones with cardboard signs. You can never tell who is destitute and who is scamming.
A man in a hooded parka dodges between cars, crossing two lanes of traffic, clutching a Chick-fil-A bag. He places it in the hands of a weathered man with an even more weathered sign. They exchange nods and smiles and the man in the parka dashes away.
The sky has turned soft pink, swirled with brush strokes of orange and ripples of turquoise. I hit the radio. Two shootings, a baby beaten by the mother’s boyfriend and more sex scandals. Why did I turn it on?
Headlights and taillights glow as evening falls. I turn into the subdivision behind a friend’s car. She’s probably returning from her parents. She’s been caring for them for 10 years.
Sentence fragments and random phrases float through my mind.
I carry groceries into a dark house and walk from room to room flipping on the lights. The bare spot on the piano where the baby Jesus should be looks at me accusingly.
The sentence fragments meld together. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you clothed me. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” Matthew 25:35-36.
I wonder if I’ll ever see that small representation of Jesus again.
Maybe I just did.