I don’t remember when we didn’t have a small Nativity scene as part of our Christmas celebration---and I don’t think we ever called it a crèche. Well, perhaps I did, but only in one of my moods or when someone else might be listening and be suitably impressed. We’ve had china ones, a flat little “stained glass” set which was actually some kind of textured acetate, cut into the figures, with black markings for the leadings and features; we painted those ourselves into ethereal transparently watery colors, with the paint-pens enclosed in the set.
We have several still---one a free-hand router-cut wooden one, with the three principal figures only, flat and stylized, nailed in front of a slant-roofed depiction of a small shed---Daddy had a remarkable talent for all things made of wood.
There was the small plastic made-in-Taiwan model, from my children’s early childhood, with the quickly-painted daubs of robes and faces and a handful of mossy straw idly hanging from the eaves of the stable. That was the one which impelled my Mother's delighted quizzing of my oldest son the Christmas that he’d just turned five. He had been learning the books of the Bible and the Christmas Story in our small-town, taught-by-Pentecostal-ladies Kindergarten. “Now, who is this?” Mother pointed to the small figure. He’d answer, “That’s Joseph.”
She’d smile and nod and move on: “Who’s this one?” “Baby Jesus,” he’d reply. She nod approval, touching a fingertip to the smaller standing shape, “And who is THIS?” she’d ask, barely able to stifle her mirth. “Mary,” he’d say.
Mother would gasp a little, almost unable to control her breathing, as she posed the vital question, “And what’s Mary’s LAST name?”
“Broughtforth,” would come the earnest answer, and Mother would lose her breath laughing.
For the past several years, we’ve had a little clear-glass Manger-Scene on a small oval mirror on a table in the living room. It’s just a stylized set, but beautiful in its simplicity and the aura of light which surrounds it beside the tree. And one year, I lost Baby Jesus.
Somehow, in the maneuvering to get in and out to water the plants in the corner, or dust the table’s several items, or just my plain clumsiness, I knocked several of the pieces to the floor. Nothing was broken, and I gathered them up carefully, looking for nicks or cracks or the sharp edges of a break. Miraculously none. But the Holy Child was missing.
I crawled around on the carpet, on the hardwood, looking into the folds of the tree-skirt, the couch-cover, the fringed edges of the big rug---not to be found. I set the empty manger back up onto the table, in its place between the adoring parents, and kept a lookout for a small form glinting in all the presents and bows and flowerpots.
And he was not to be seen again, not the whole season, til time to put away the small clear figures into their cushioned box. As we worked, I mentioned to Caro that I had looked and looked, trying to find the Baby, the central figure, the true Reason for the Season, and had had no luck.
She looked, laughed and set the small manger aright onto the table, and there, in some sort of optical miracle---there He was---in the manger all the time.
I, of the bassinet-and-baby-bed mind-set, had set it upside down, making the small legs and feet of the manger into the head-and-footboards, and the poor Infant sculpted into the glass had spent His own Birthday lying face down under the bed.
And I'd been poking about amidst presents and rug fluff and beneath cushions and under sofas---for a an elusive something which was right before my face the whole time. There’s a sermon in there somewhere, of the search, of the finding, of the losing and of the giving up, of the looking in the wrong places and of the not seeing at all what is RIGHT THERE. I hope this is a season of Finding and Keeping and knowing what is there, because it’s so easy to pass by and overlook. I hope also that I keep the eyes to see what is real and what is good, and the heart to know it when I see it.