“Insert adoring child here,” I heard my mother mumble. Not sure what I would find, I looked up to see her assembling a vintage nativity set. “Insert single sheep here, ” she continued. When she was in early primary school (in the 1940’s), Mom remembers assembling an identical nativity set in her childhood home. Although the Wilkie’s original set has been lost, she had found another set in an antique store recently, and brought it to the LaGeorge home with much rejoicing.
She said, “Insert adoring child here.” A little cardboard figure of a child kneeling in front of the cardboard Mary, Joseph, and (toddler) Jesus. There is even a little tab to prop him up.
This paper child speaks to me about Christmas as I have, as we might now experience it.
On the one hand, we are surrounded by cardboard expressions of a holiday whose significance has long lost its “holy”-day-ness: wrapping paper and perfect family pictures and blow-up Santa/Frosty/Rudolph on the front lawn. Gifted choirs sing theology they don’t believe, but will one day experience: “And He shall reign forever and e—-ver. King of Kings and Lord of Lord. Hallelujah!”
I have resented this tinsel production of Christmas, some years more than others. I have muttered about commercialization and refused to shop until the last Santa is off the store shelf. I wrote a letter to the conductor who, from the stage of Disney Concert Hall, mocked the Messiah about whom Handel wrote. I do not own a Christmas sweater, and I am hopeless when it comes to wrapping presents.
On the other hand, this little nativity boy is the figure closest in the tableau to the infant Messiah. He is there, kneeling before the Baby who created the world, adoring.
This year, several friends have shared pictures of how their children set up their nativity sets, and each has one thing in common: the characters are all set as close to the Baby as possible. The kids know this is the place to be!
And this is where I want to be, as close to Jesus as possible, even at Christmas. I don’t want to begrudgingly sing of choirs of angels, to laugh with friends at gatherings. To be sure, I want to be adoring. And I can be supported, propped up like that little cardboard boy by strings of lights which remind me of the Star of Bethlehem and the Light of the World; by crisp cedar wreaths not unlike the boughs the Shepherds on that hillside might have been laying on when the angel choir shattered the night; held up by the joy in togetherness. I can recognize that all of these trappings, accepted with thankfulness, may point me faithfully toward the one Gift, Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.