Baby Jesus is gone, stolen last night out of our front yard. No Jesus. No manger. The space in front of his parents’ feet is empty, shockingly empty.

We bought what we affectionately call “the holy plastic family” the first Christmas we were married, some 22 years ago. Jesus and his parents and the wise men traveled with us from Maryland to New Jersey to Minnesota. Squirrels in our shed have chewed off electrical cords and mice have built nests in the plastic figures, but ever year we shake them out and bring the figures out in a wheelbarrow.

This year we had a first: a caroling-with-grog party with neighbors around the little holy group. It was a magic moment: a new reason to get together and share some cheer in the darkest and longest days of the year.

But now the heart of our little family has disappeared. Most likely it was taken by someone who thought it was a joke, someone who thought it humorous to prop up Jesus in the passenger seat or toss him out the window.

It’s not funny. And it’s not just a manger set or an item we love. It’s a statement about Christmas: that Christmas still exists and that Jesus brings light and life and healing to the whole world. We were proud to have the Word in our front yard.

A theft will not discourage us from sharing God’s love. But it does make us a bit sad at heart…especially for those thoughtless enough to do this.