It was the day before the day before Christmas and Angela had just about finished decorating her band new swanky apartment on the West-side. Everything was just perfect; each of the decorations had been chosen with such care. Just like all the furniture in her apartment each and every one of the Christmas decorations was brand spanking new. In a couple of hours Angela expected that her apartment would be full of guests. Her guests had been as carefully chosen as each of the items that adorned her apartment. It was all designed to show everyone how very well Angela was doing.
This Christmas, unlike so many other Christmases that Angela had endured, this Christmas everything was going to be perfect. Angela planned to lavishly entertain her guests. The evening’s entertainment was guaranteed to get Angela’s Christmas off to the best of starts. At least here in her lovely new home, Angela would be in control. Unlike the chaos of her family’s Christmas gatherings.
All her life, Angela had endured the trials and tribulations of her family’s dysfunctional yuletide gatherings; gatherings that always ended up with various family members arguing over some perceived slight. Tonight, things would be different. Tonight, Angela hadn’t invited a single member of her outrageous family to come to dine. Tonight, Angela’s guests were made up of the great and the good, new friends and work colleagues; people Angela could count on to behave admirably. Tonight, everything would be perfect.
All she needed to do to finish off the room, was to assemble the new nativity set which she had just purchased up on her beautiful fireplace mantle. She hadn’t planned to purchase a nativity set, but when she saw the hand-carved, olive- wood nativity set in the window of the swanky gift shop, she just knew that it was perfect. As she carefully unpacked her perfect nativity, Angela’s mind wandered back over the years to the very first Christmas that she could remember.
Angela was just four years old. She and her brother, together with her parents were living in her Grandma’s house in England. Above the coal fireplace, high on the mantle, out of reach from Angela or her brother’s tiny hands there was a small nativity set. It had been Angela’s Grandma’s when she was a little girl, and it was the focal point of all the Christmas decorations in her their small sitting room.
Angela remembered wondering on that long-ago Christmas Eve, if Father Christmas would bring her a new doll. She remembered her Grandma reaching for the big black book while Angela, her brother, and even her Mom and Dad assembled themselves in front of the fire to listen to her Grandmother read the story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of the baby Jesus. When the story was over, her Grandma picked Angela up so that she could reach the nativity set and she handed her a tiny little baby Jesus. Grandma told Angela to put the baby Jesus in the little bed in the stable. Everyone watched as Angela carefully placed the baby Jesus ever so gently in his tiny little bed. Angela remembered sitting on her father’s lap as everyone began to sing.
It wasn’t long after that Christmas that Angela and her family left her Grandma behind and moved to Ireland. Angela missed her Grandma terribly. But in Ireland she had new grandparents to get to know.
Angela’s Irish grandparents, they lived in a very fancy house. Angela remembered Christmas in their home, a large box was brought down from the attic out of which all sorts of beautiful Christmas ornaments were unpacked. Neither Angela nor her brother were allowed to touch any of the ornaments. Over and over again they heard the words, “Look but do not touch!”
Angela missed her Grandma’s little sitting room and wondered who was going to put the baby Jesus to bed on his birthday. A few days before Christmas a package arrived for Angela. It was the very first package she had ever received. She was so excited that her mother had to help her unwrap it. Inside the package they discovered the nativity set from Grandma’s sitting room. Angela remembered the fuss she made when her Irish grandparents insisted that the nativity set would look better up in her bedroom. Angela threw a temper tantrum, as only a five-year-old can, until Grandma’s nativity set was arranged in a place of honour above the fireplace. Angela hid the baby Jesus in her room until Christmas Eve. After dinner on Christmas Eve, Angela waited and waited, but no one read the story. Finally, no longer willing to wait, she asked her Dad if he had a big black book. It took a while for the adults to catch on. But eventually a Bible was found, and the story was read. Angela’s father lifted her up and together they tucked the baby Jesus into his tiny little bed.
Eventually, Angela and her family moved out of her Irish grandparents’ home, and into a shabby little place of their own. Each year Grandma’s nativity set occupied a place of honour on her family’s mantle. When Angela was ten, her family began to prepare for yet another move. Her father explained to Angela and her brother that they were moving very far away, and they wouldn’t be able to take all their stuff with them. So, Angela secured a place in one of the big steamer trunks for her favorite doll. She didn’t mind leaving most of her toys behind because the house they moved into was grand and glorious.
As Christmas approached, her parents brought all sorts of packages from the stores and decorations were hung everywhere. One afternoon Angela’s mother asked her to go with her to pick out a new nativity set, and for the first time, Angela realized that her Grandmother’s nativity set had not made the journey to their new home. When Angela stopped crying her mother explained that she had sent the nativity set back to her Grandma’s for safe keeping. Her Mother told her how happy her Grandma would be to have it back in her sitting room. Angela told her mother that she didn’t want a new nativity set, but her Mom went out and bought one anyway. It was really a dumb set. The baby Jesus was stuck to his bed. How could anybody stick a baby to its bed. How can you appreciate being tucked in on his birthday when you’re stuck to the bed all the time? Nevertheless, the new nativity set was placed on a coffee table because there was no fireplace in the new house. That first Christmas in the new house they forgot to read the story about the baby Jesus. Angela remembers silently wishing Jesus a happy birthday before she went to sleep.
Over the years the beauty of Grandma’s nativity set grew in Angela’s memory. It became the most beautiful nativity set that she or anyone else had ever seen. Angela never saw a nativity set which could match the wonder of her Grandma’s fabulous nativity. Each year, Angela would remind her father about how they used to celebrate Christmas. She would go on and on about that beautiful nativity set.
When Angela was twenty, she returned to England and got a job in London. Each weekend Angela would travel two hours by train to visit her Grandma. She vividly remembers that Christmas Eve, when she arrived at her Grandma’s. Angela went straight into the sitting room and there on the mantel she saw the strangest thing. Grandma’s nativity set stood in its rightful place, but it was not as Angela had remembered it. It was so very tacky. It was made of rubber. The shepherds were not made to the same scale as Mary and Joseph. They were so large they dwarfed the stable. One of the wise guys had lost his gift. The donkey’s ear had been glued back on. Mary’s face was all smudged and Joseph’s right hand was badly chewed up and mangled. The angel on the stable roof was positively ugly.
Convinced that a pack of rotten children must have descended upon the nativity and destroyed its former glory, Angela asked her Grandma what had happened to her beautiful nativity. How did it get into such bad shape? Her Grandma explained that it had been like that since she was a little girl. It had been one of her favorite toys and she had played with it so much that she had almost worn it out. Then there was Angela’s Father and her uncles who had bashed it about as they played with it. By the time Angela was born, the set was so battered that they kept it up on the mantle so that it wouldn’t be completely destroyed by Angela and her brother’s tiny hands.
Angela went over to the bookshelf and got out the big black bible. Her Grandmother handed Angela the tiny baby Jesus and she tucked him safely into his little bed in the stable. As her Grandma read the familiar tale of Jesus’ birth, Angela began to wonder about that first Christmas. She couldn’t help imagining the rag tag couple travelling to Bethlehem, and she imagined the messy accommodations in the stable, the scruffy looking shepherds, and the smell that must have filled the air. Not a very auspicious place for the LOVE to become flesh and dwell among them. As her Grandmother closed the big black bible, Angela remembered her own inauspicious surroundings. LOVE had come to Angela in a beaten up old ugly nativity set.
As Angela remembered her Grandmother serving up their Christmas feast, she realized that the years had not been kind to her Grandma. She was old and tired; this would be one of her last Christmases. Angela remembered all the stories her Grandma had told her over the years and all the wisdom which this wise woman had imparted. When her Grandma kissed Angela goodnight, Angela gently reminded her Grandma to say her prayers.
Remembering her Grandma in her swanky new west end apartment, Angela couldn’t help herself, she just had to say happy birthday to Jesus. Angela carefully packed her hand-carved, olive-wood nativity set back into its box. She retrieved her Grandma’s old, ugly, nativity set from the farthest reaches of her storage locker. Angela carefully arranged Grandma’s old, ugly, nativity upon her beautiful new mantle. She dug out the big old black Bible and placed it ready and waiting for guests to arrive.
Once the tiny baby Jesus was tucked in and her guests were well fed and entertained, Angela packed up her Grandma’s old, ugly nativity set and the big old black bible to make the long journey to her family’s home. She wanted to be sure to get there early on Christmas Eve so that she could help her nieces set up their Great-Grandma’s nativity set in time to read the story and tuck the little baby Jesus into his tiny little bed in the stable, so that together they could wish Jesus a very happy birthday. Angela couldn’t contain herself at the prospect of those little girls seeing the beauty of her Grandma’s nativity. Her heart was full to bursting with the LOVE that is the HOLY ONE, at the very thought of her nieces tucking in the baby Jesus.
May the HOLY ONE who is LOVE bring you hope, peace, and joy as LOVE is born again, and again in you.