Daughter Leslie texted a photo just after Thanksgiving with, “The gang’s all here!” I immediately recognized the nativity set we’d given to both of our girls many years ago. Mixed in with it were other figurines from earlier in her marriage.
I loved that our grandchildren had arranged them all together, including the one representing their deceased dog Olive, fittingly sandwiched between Mary and a shepherd. “You should hear the convos Holden and Hads have with this crew as they play!” Les went on. “Everything from an angel telling Mary her baby’s name would be Jesus, to ‘No kissing, it’s COVID!’”
To help Les out with her kids this past fall, and to stay connected, I’ve been reading books on readeo.com twice a week to five-year-old Holden. His brother Hudson, 9, reads his own books now. But his sister Hadley, 7, sometimes joins us when she has a break from her online classes. To keep them motivated, I send them little prizes for every 10 books they read.
Several weeks ago, while we were reading, I was struck by Holden’s hands catching the sunlight as it streamed through his bedroom window. I knew the moment was fleeting. I grabbed a quick screenshot.
To me, it appears that the three fingers on the left are the Magi. (See the crown on the center one?) The luminous figure on the right is Mary, with Joseph by her side, and a shepherd to his left. Light emanates from the manger, illuminating their faces.
When he had finished another 10 books, I sent him his prize, a combo pack of two plastic critters buried in colorful tiny balls of foam. He showed me one of the critters and told me he had shared the other one with Hadley. I saw the foam still untouched in the container. “Did you know you can also play with that foam?” I explained. “It sticks together.”
“So, it’s like two toys?” he asked. He scooped it out of the container and pressed it into a ball which, of course, he started throwing around his room.
I am a playful person and sympathetic to a little kid having to sit still in front of a screen. I let him have recess for a few minutes, then called him back to attention. “You can make lots of things with that foam,” I said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what else you do with it!”
The next morning, his mom walked by the nativity scene and noticed something different: the baby Jesus had received new foam bedding.
She and I were certain it had been the work of ever-nurturing Hadley, especially since Holden told me he had given one of his toys to her. But Hadley said she wasn’t responsible for it, Holden was.
When I was about their age, my grandmother had taught me the old Sunday School hand game where you lace your fingers together, tucked inward, then make doors and a steeple out of your thumbs and forefingers while you say, This is the church, this is the steeple! Then, pulling our thumbs apart and turning palms up, we’d laugh as we said, Open the doors and see all the people!
This pandemic Christmas, we’re all painfully aware that in many churches and in many homes, we will not be able to see all the people. Whether because of social distancing, grieving the loss of loved ones, or reduced customers at businesses, there are painful absences everywhere.
Headlines tell us to prepare for “a dark winter.” But what if, instead, we prepare for the light?
Maybe we could all inch further away from the shadows, so that we at least have more potential to catch the light at its source. Maybe we could do a careful search and take whatever we have, even the tiniest foam balls, and find a way to lift up Love Incarnate.
Maybe unknowingly, as we do, our hands will cradle its brightest morning star.