Thursday, December 25, 2014

We Three Kings Disoriented Are


Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved nativity sets.

I'm not a purist, though. From Precious Moments nativities where everyone, including the wise men, are children, to the Peanuts version with Linus and Lucy and Woodstock in the manger, I love them all. 

The standard, though, has always been a traditional set like the one my parents had. I really liked that one. Each Christmas, every plaster of paris character was handled with such care that setting up the manger scene was practically as holy as the baby’s actual birth. I was nearly grown and married before they trusted me enough to put the shepherds in the stable.

So, of course I passed on the tradition of fear and mistrust years later when we finally got our own fragile nativity set.  Finally, after I saw he was using both hands to arrange the Holy Family, I let my husband help with the display.
So it makes me pretty happy that my grown children and their families love crèches, too. Plus, it makes Christmas shopping pretty easy. Every time I see a unique manger scene, I buy it in duplicate, wrap it up and give it to my daughter and daughter-in-law.
Last year, I found a homemade wooden crèche cut with a jigsaw into puzzle pieces that rested inside a wooden frame. When stood on end and emptied of the puzzle pieces, the frame became a stable and the pieces represented each nativity character.
The grandbabies loved it. It was safe, it was educational, and it was compact. But it was not completely kid proof.
“Will’s not allowed to put anything in the garbage can anymore,” my six-year-old granddaughter told me last week. Her two-year-old brother is working on his fine motor skills, as well as Cause and Effect experiments. You gotta admire a toddler with a penchant for cleaning house, though.
“Why not?” I asked, putting away dishes from the dishwasher.
“Because we think he threw Mary in the trash,” she said casually.
I nearly choked on a sugarplum.
For some reason, her matter-of-fact statement cracked me up. Still, that just doesn’t seem like a nice way to treat the mother of Jesus. I considered the sublimely ridiculous and realized that at least he threw her away after the incarnation. But Allie was still talking.
“And we broke the head off another Mary last week,” she said, chomping on some walnuts.
“Rough day on the Mary’s around your house, huh?” I said with a twinkle and another barely smothered chuckle.
“Yeah,” she answered. “Juliet broke a leg on one of the donkeys, too,” she added. “And a wing got broken off an angel.” She took a drink of milk.
“Wow,” I responded. “It’s amazing our Savior survived with you guys around.”
Allie’s eyes grew big and she nodded in solemn agreement.
So, I got to thinking. Since it sounded like there were some gaps in the Brady family's manger scenes, maybe I could help out.
The next day, my husband and I headed over to my favorite antique store during its Christmas extravaganza. I was on a spiritual mission and, in no time at all, found exactly what I was looking for—an entire display of random characters from the Christmas story. There were enough Mary’s to stand by Joseph for at least a couple more weeks, plenty of two-winged angels to fill the celestial choir, and an odd assortment of shepherds.
Most of the tags on the pieces labeled the characters along with the prices. I guess that was to prevent anyone from mistaking a wise man for Mary’s betrothed. It seemed unnecessary to me until one little statue caught my eye. I couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be Joseph or a shepherd or one of the three kings. The truth was he looked a lot like a Buddhist monk. But there he was, standing right in the middle of a bunch of Josephs and Mary's. Even the vendor didn’t know where this character belonged, and finally just wrote on the price tag, “Nativity Guy.”
I kept the tag. I had to. All these years, I never knew we were missing such a key player in the Christmas Story as the “Nativity Guy.”
I wrapped up the spare manger people, put them in a Christmas box, and gave them to our daughter’s family this morning for Christmas. I knew she’d really be happy with our thoughtful gift.
I’m a little worried, though. It turns out it’s not that hard to find a new Virgin Mary or the whole wise man entourage.
But if Will goes on a cleaning spree again, I don’t think I’ll be able to replace Nativity Guy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On Another Night


“I don’t know if I want to go through this ever again.”
I understand. I felt like she did. Twice. Some women feel like that a dozen times, depending on how things turn out. And some would do whatever it takes to go through it at least once, but they never have the chance.
There’s enough sorrow on all sides to make us wonder why it has to be this way.
It’s a consequence, I guess. We can trace it back to that unfortunate snack attack of the first Mr. and Mrs. If only they’d been happy with plums and bananas, instead of acting like chocoholics on a midnight binge. Then maybe the ‘fruitful multiplying’ that followed would have been as easy as an apple falling from a tree.
I guess we’ll never know.
But sometimes I wonder—why did birth pains have to be the price for the woman’s sin? Why must something so miraculous cast such a fearful shadow? “I will greatly multiply your grief and your suffering in pregnancy and the pangs of childbearing,” He told her, as she listened in dread. “With spasms of distress you will bring forth children.” (Gen. 3:16)
Every mother does. And that’s only the beginning.
As if parenting challenges aren’t enough, we’re never the same after childbirth—even our psychology changes. For example, to the best of my postnatal memory, I was once an adventurous girl. I dreamed of going to France as an exchange student. I wanted to jump out of airplanes and ride horses wildly across a ranch. Somewhere. Not on the same afternoon, of course. I didn’t get a chance to do any of those things, but I did eat a homemade pizza covered in sautéed rattlesnake—once. And I waded through an alligator-infested river beside my damaged canoe while I was pregnant. Actually, that one might have been kind of stupid.
But once I gave birth, everything changed. I gave up serpent chow for meatloaf and threw away my oars. Because now I wasn’t living for myself—a couple of helpless little someones depended on me for their very life.
It’s not just a woman’s psyche that changes in motherhood—she pays a price with her body to bring a new life into the world. Girlish figures change forever—hips get wider, boobs get longer. We all have scars, inside and out.  Listen, getting that kid out can leave a mark. The pain we each undergo is unimaginable, known only to other women who have endured the same thing. But ask any mother you know and she’ll tell you it’s absolutely worth it.
Men have no idea.
No, there is one Man Who understands.
He also suffered unimaginably so He could give us Life. Agonizing alone, he literally sweated drops of blood in His distress. Ironically, all these years after His resurrection, His imperishable body is still scarred from His ordeal.
God sent His Son, but where was He while His Son suffered? He was right there, “in Christ Jesus, reconciling the world unto Himself.” That’s not the picture most of us have of Him, is it?  God is not a Punisher Who stands at a distance, reveling in the miseries we bring upon ourselves. He stepped down into our dimension and experienced, in flesh like ours, the distresses of our lives.
Why did He do it? “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2) What joy? How could there be joy in such suffering?
Maybe the clue lies in another night, thirty-three years earlier. Remember? A young woman, virtually alone, endured childbirth’s spasms of distress in the worst of circumstances. But for the joy set before her, she endured. And the world has never been the same.
I am amazed by that courageous young mother, as I am amazed by every woman’s courage in her uniquely painful circumstances. But it is the extravagant love of God that makes me catch my breath. He took on Himself the curse of our sin so we could become His very own children.
Maybe the shadow that fell across childbirth was a foreshadowing of the pain God Himself would experience one day so we can have new life. No wonder Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be born again.
There is no life without birth. And no matter what it costs, it is absolutely worth it.