Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Centerpiece of Christmas

Slowly we discovered them like treasures from another time. In big dusty boxes not wrapped in swaddling clothes—but in old yellowing newspaper, which, if we had a mind to would take us back to all those places we have lived. Papers from Owensboro, Danville (VA) The Georgetown (KY).... the Clemson (SC) paper...somewhere along the way the New York Times and the Commercial Appeal in Memphis and in Birmingham, The News. Long after we are gone someone will riffle through these sagging boxes and spread out some of the old crumbling newspapers and say: “Look at this. Isn’t this funny.”

But I got diverted. For what really mattered as I dug through those boxes were the tiny little figures that I found deeply nestled in those dust-covered containers. There were the wonderful carvings of the Holy Family from Oberammergau. Mary, Joseph, the little baby perfectly carved and painted, one sheep and I think one shepherd. These figures were costly—and so we had to leave the rest of the Holy Family in Germany. Then there is one of my favorites. Years ago I visited San Antonio and saw this wonderful nativity set that some native in Mexico had fashioned. It was primitive but beautiful. The characters were all white trimmed in silver. But we got busy, never went back to the shop—and came home without the set. Months later I told my friend who was moving that way about that Nativity set and how I wished I had bought it.  The next Christmas there arrived a package at our house. Opening up the box there they were—the figures I had seen in the store window in Texas. Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, a Wise Man or two—a sheep and a goat—two angels—and at the center of it all a baby the size of my thumb. Made out of plaster of paris. Tiny halos around the heads of Mary and Joseph and the two angels. I carefully arrange them in a barn—with a tiny star on top.

There is another set from Switzerland. On a wooden platform there are the tiniest nativity figures you could imagine. There is also a paper foldout that we picked up somewhere in Europe. Opening it up—there they are—the holy family and animals and kings and shepherds and even an angel.

But my all-time favorite is those figures that come from our first church and first Christmas we were married. We picked them up at K-Mart. And I remember asking my wife, “Are these tacky?” And she said , “Maybe. Get them anyway.” So every year they too come out of some box and are carefully unwrapped. There is Mary with a hole in her back where our son played Captain Marvel with her as she sailed through the air. There is a Shepherd and a King. Where’s Joseph? We lost him somewhere along the way. Jesus and his manger were wrapped, not in swaddling clothes but in a foldout page of the Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer. Jesus, of course is the centerpiece but showing the wear and tear of the years. One time our little Dachshund got hold of   Jesus’ foot and one toe is missing—but the rest of him is intact.

Why do we, year after year, go through the same motions? Dig the boxes out; carefully unwrap the holy family over and over. The history of our family’s life can be seen
in those tiny figures and in the newspaper in which they are wrapped. Why do we keep doing this?

Robert McAfee Brown once told that every Christmas his family came home from all over the country. And every Christmas Eve he said they gathered around a tiny crèche of Mary and Joseph and a baby and others, too. And he said: We do this to remember this is the centerpiece of it all—quiet, peaceful, loving, faithful. Outside our doors, he said is a wild, cold crazy world. But around the manger we remember we are not alone really. We remember that the light really did—and does—shine in the darkness and nothing—no thing can put it out. Maybe this is why, all over our house you will bump into Mary and Joseph and a baby.  

                                        --RogerLovette /

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