When we were growing up, we had a plastic nativity scene with a sturdy wooden stable that Grandpa Moore had made. My brother and I spent hours and hours beneath the Christmas tree, re-enacting our own version of the Christmas Story. To assist the angel on the roof guard from any intruders, Fort Apache Indians had their bows aimed and ready. While the Magi brought great gifts, Barbie was a little more practical. She made sure the stable was comfortable with kleenex blankets and fake Barbieland food. (Hmmm… I wonder if why they didn’t stick around very long was she intimidated them since she was twice their height?)
Years passed and our family dynamics changed. I ended up with the Nativity Scene in the divorce. All that was left was Mary, a shepherd, a sheep, Joe, Jesus in the manger and the stable. My kids loved them as well. Who was I to not let them have their hands-on experience? As time went by, the staple came out of Jesus’s back, so he was now free from the manger. We considered hot gluing him in the there. The opinion was that seemed kind of sacreligious, so we chose to take the risk.
Big Mistake! That fateful Christmas season, our one and one half inch Baby Jesus came up missing. Our family kind of started to panic. We searched and searched as this could not be pleasing to God. This had to be an infraction that would top the Ten Commandments. Days went by. Regardless of our attempts, he was just gone.
For some bizarre reason Christmas Eve one of the kids was messing behind the our 30 gallon fish aquarium. Guess who was hiding back there! Celebration rang out in the Long home. Truly Christ had come and we were amazed. Probably more by ‘how did he get behind the aquarium?’ than anything, but we could not deny the timing.
The next year-same story, second verse, but this time he was in a houseplant. He made his grand entrance on Christmas Eve evening once again. Year after year we would put him in the manger, but we could not keep him in there! Everyone swore they were not up to any shenanigans. As unorganized as our family is, we couldn’t even keep track of most of the kids’s pairs of shoes, how could we orchestrate this? After several years of this, it got to the point it kind of became old news. “Jesus is missing.” “Oh, don’t worry. He’ll show up Christmas Eve.” And he would, always amazing us with his unique entry.
One year he did his disappearing act and we went on with life, not making much mind of it….until He didn’t show up by the usual time on Christmas Eve. Concern started in. No Jesus before supper. No Jesus after Christmas Eve service. No Jesus as we unwrapped our gifts. While it wasn’t putting a knife through the heart of our Christmas, it was niggling in each of our minds.
After the packages were opened and flurry of wrapping paper had magically turned to unwanted trash, Casey discovered a very small package clear back under the tree. On it said “To Everyone”. When we opened it, there he was. All one and one half inches of him, smiling and reaching up to us. Later, because she couldn’t keep a secret, Casey confessed that she was the culprit, but that didn’t change the message of the night.
Since then, all we have is him and the manger. They sit in a place of honor in our living room. He hasn’t come up missing in about 10 years. He’s a reminder that may we never forget that just like a stable in Bethlehem, its truly impossible to keep Jesus in that manger. He’s always reaching out to everyone in his most unique way.