The magic of Christmas is not in the presents, but in His presence. –Unknown
I’m just CRAZY about Christmas! I always have been. And somehow, I have managed to let both the secular and the sacred share space in my heart (with the tie going to the sacred, of course!) during this magical time of year. As a kid, I remember Christmas Eve worship and how I especially loved the nativity at my Mom’s house. I can recall that it was tucked away each year in its original box, every piece finding its place in the foam packaging. When my mother set it out…baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary and the gang all hung out in a miniature stable that my grandpa made. Examining each piece, I can still see the beautiful face of Mary and the baby Jesus…surrounded by hay…looking so heavenly and angelic. Both a baby and a Savior. The little set symbolizing an extraordinary and miraculous moment in time. Joseph looking so noble…the epitome of honor and faithfulness. There were farm animals, an angel, a shepherd boy, and the three wise men, of course. It was pretty wonderful.
So, it sort of surprises me that I never had a nativity of my own. Not when I went away to college, not when I took my first job in Arkansas, not when I moved to California, and not when I got married. In fact, I didn’t have a nativity until after my son, Sean, was a year old. It all happened in another magical moment at Hobby Lobby (seems that this store is the scene for many Spencer Family Christmas memories!)
After moving halfway across the country from California to Kansas, my mother-in-law, Sean and I found ourselves in the Hobby Lobby in Salina…for what I remember was a brief and snack-filled trip to do a little Christmas shopping (by the way, Cheez-Its make for great toddler payola…just saying!) Strolling through a craft warehouse with a 1 year old BOY is no easy task! So when it looked like Sean was going to leap out of the cart at any moment, Karen suggested that Sean help us pick out a nativity for our home. This was a genius idea because it gave my toddler a sense of purpose and I was just thrilled with the thought of having a nativity of my own. In record time, my excitement turned to worry as I remembered that something as fragile as a porcelain nativity probably wouldn’t last but a second in our house. Sean was just so hands-on about everything! In the back of my mind I had planned to buy him a Fisher Price Little People nativity set for Christmas. It was important to me that he understand the Christmas story…and at an age appropriate level. He already had a few Little People collections…the train set and the airport. Still, it couldn’t hurt to look at the nativities on display at the store.
It was pretty amazing…an entire aisle with nativities in every shape and size imaginable. My thoughts were racing…where would we put such a fragile item? Karen must have heard the wheels grinding in my head. After explaining my thoughts, she said, “Sean will pick out the one that he likes best…and we will teach him to care for it and look after it.” My heart was touched as I watched her talk with Sean about picking out a baby Jesus to take to his house. She reminded him that he would have to take extra special care of it! And asked him if he was ready to choose one. Sean beamed! From an early age, Sean could tell a story with his eyebrows (a talent he inherited from Grandma Karen.) One second the eyebrows would be arched high as he caught a glimpse of something intriguing. The next minute the eyebrows would be furrowed as he inspected his options. Sometimes just one eyebrow would lift as if he was thinking really hard. It was a wonderful little dance. When he finally picked one, all three of us knew this was the nativity for us. It was perfect. A chunky little wooden nativity…not too big and not too small. Sean touched each piece and seemed very delighted with the farm animals in this set. Since all the nativities were technically “on display” we found a store worker who immediately set out to find us a boxed set from the storage room. However, when she came back, she wasn’t carrying a box. Uh-oh. She explained that they hadn’t ordered many of this set and that they were sold out. She had also checked to see if getting one before Christmas was a possibility. It was not.
Karen is always cool as a cucumber in these sorts of situations. Clearly, THIS was the set that Sean wanted. She didn’t want to disappoint her grandson so she did what ANY grandmother would do. She asked if we could buy this very set. The store worker said that in any other situation she would love to sell it to us, except that this set had been GLUED to the foam board it rested upon. She pulled off one of the wise men to demonstrate. Stuck to his base was loads of navy blue paper and foam. Both Karen and the worker tried to pull it off. It was no easy task. Even if we pulled each piece from the board we would then have to pull off loads of paper scraps. The lady said that the pieces might not even stand correctly given the amount of glue left on the base. She obviously didn’t know who she was dealing with…Karen said she would work all that out later if we could just buy this nativity set. And so, it was settled.
Sean held the wise man in his hot little hands as we arranged the foam board and the glued down pieces across the shopping cart basket. There were quite a few stares, but we managed to check out and make it to the car. From the moment we got home Karen worked on releasing each character from the foam…carefully pulling off paper and glue. Her beautifully manicured nails probably got the raw end of the deal that day as she scraped and scraped. Each time she finished a piece she handed it to Sean. His eyebrows went to work again…doing their little dance as he checked out each one. He would show it to me and then go and show his Dad and then show me again. I think Sean had already had a bath and was tucked into bed before Karen had finished them all. It was truly a labor of love.
Sean played with the nativity all December long. Each day he would rearrange them and make sure the animals were “fed.” Since our set didn’t come in a box, we lovingly packed them away in an oversized shoe box after the holidays, unpacking them with great delight the next year and the year after that. Sean never seemed to tire of “playing” with the set. When Casey came along (and was old enough to follow her brother everywhere,) he explained the cast of characters to her. “This is baby Jesus…His mom’s name is Mary and His dad’s name is Joseph…,” and on down the line. These are the moments that live in a mother’s heart for eternity.
Today, the nativity makes its home in front of the fireplace each Christmas and it serves as the centerpiece of our Christmas Eve dinner table. I still love taking it out of the shoe box each and every year…a flood of memories spilling out with each “sticky” piece.
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.