As Christmas passes, the guests go home and cookies I baked grow stale. The garland and the tree are dropping needles and looking droopy. It’s time for us to take down the extra candles and snowmen and reindeer that have popped up around the house. We put away the books of Christmas music. The tree get’s hauled out to the curb. It’s time to put away the nativity sets that we set up each year.
One of those sets is something Doug and I bought when we were first married. It’s a bamboo stable and figures made by an artist from Vietnam. Instead of donkeys there are water buffalo. Instead of the traditional manger, a cradle hangs from the ceiling to rock the Christ child gently to sleep, because that’s the custom in Vietnam.
We have my ancient set that came from my grandparents in the early 19th century. The paint is chipping a bit from the holy family and several sheep have only 3 legs, but I love it anyways. I remember as a child setting it up each year with care, my parents reminding me to be careful of the fragile figures. We shared those same words with our children as they were growing up. Generations that have looked at those tiny figures and have been reminded of the love, promise, and hope brought by that baby in the manger. We have other nativities we have collected over the years that we unpack and place in different spots throughout the house.
The most difficult thing for me is to put those nativities away.
It feels like I’m somehow boxing up all that hope and promise and joy only to be let out only for a month or so each year. Then in January, things go back to normal. We get back to the “real world.” I wonder, is there a way to sustain the joy and mystery of a quiet, dark night when shepherds heard the songs of angels, a baby’s first cries were heard in tiny, out of the way Bethlehem, and all the earth seemed to stop and listen and wonder what God was up to.
Last year, a friend was visiting me and was looking at the books on our bookcase, and she exclaimed, “Oops! You forgot something! You forgot to put away one of your nativities.” There on the bookcase sat one of my favorite nativities, one made from clay by a southwestern artist. It’s quite modern, and graceful, and lovely.
“No,” I responded. I didn’t forget. At our house we hold a little bit of that Christmas joy and wonder all year, reminding us that God did something amazing, something loving, something crazy, something beyond all imagination on a quiet night in Bethlehem. And every time I look at that nativity, I have to smile. Because whether it is December, or March, or July, I see again that story of hope born in a manger that changes everything every day of our lives.
Peace and joy in this Epiphany season, this time of light and love!