by Kay Etheredge

Christmas has come and gone.  Large bags of garbage sit on curbs in every neighborhood…bags filled with scraps of brightly colored paper that someone spent time wrapping carefully around gifts.  Ribbons and bows that were brightly colored last week now lie faded and forgotten as trash.  It is easy to lose perspective on what is important if we look at gifts instead of the Gift.  Even the most spiritual can get caught up in the materialistic side of Christmas.  I know because as I meticulously checked off my list for children and grandchildren I was so determined to be fair, to make everything even, that I found myself dashing out to buy just one more thing to balance what I perceived as an imbalance in my spending.  I spent time laboring mentally over what I could possibly buy for people who have everything, who need nothing, and who appreciate even less.

Our children were all here this year and both our grandchildren.  It was the grandchildren I thought most about as I decorated our home.   I placed tiny Christmas trees in fake snow in the bottom of Mason jars and set them all around my kitchen.  Jim put the large nativity scene in our front yard and our grandson, Tobias, was fascinated with the donkey and the shepherd who is just his size.  I took his picture standing beside it and thought about how quickly he will overtake this wooden shepherd…how we will blink and he will tower over him.

I pulled out my nativity that I always put in our living room…the one that belonged to my grandmother that she gave me when Jim and I married.  It always sat on her coffee table and I loved it.  Every Christmas I would sit on the floor and move the pieces around.  When I got married she gave it to me and said, “You’ve always loved this…now put it on your own coffee table”.  I remember being torn between gratitude for this precious gift, and sadness at the thought of it no longer being on her table.  As I thought about where I’d put it I thought about the grandchildren, both under the age of two, and also the fact that in addition to our own dogs, our son and daughter- in -law would be bringing their long legged, jumping dog, Bentley.  I decided it would be better to leave my grandmother’s nativity in the closet and instead, I pulled out a small one that I had used when I taught a children’s Sunday school class.  It is breakable but more durable as evidenced by the fact that the children in Sunday school had dropped it, played with it, knocked it over, and it is still intact.  I placed it on the secretary in the living room.

We left to do an errand one day and our daughter, Jane, was home with our granddaughter, Caroline.  When we came in the door Jane said excitedly, “Look what I taught her!”  She held up the pieces of the nativity and Caroline recited to us the sounds that the animals make.  As Jane held up baby Jesus she asked, “Who is this?”  Caroline said without hesitating, “Baby Jesus”.  From that moment she became obsessed with baby Jesus.  She carried the nativity piece in her hand when she got ready for bed.  She slept with it.  She took it with her in the car.  One day she dissolved in tears when I tried to take it from her as we left the house.  “Baby Jesus!” she yelled and I quickly put the tiny piece back in her hand.

Christmas morning we got up early to see Caroline open her gifts.  She was fascinated with her toy kitchen and with a small play house.  She took turns playing with each.  The playhouse came with a small slide and she slid the little plastic figures down the slide.  With each one she would say, “Wheeee!”  Then we heard her say, “Wheeee, Baby Jesus!”  She was sliding the tiny nativity figure down the slide too.  She then went to play with her toy kitchen.  Baby Jesus went in the sink.  Later Christmas night our daughter- in- law, Chelsea, went in to bathe an exhausted Caroline.  I went into the bathroom to see if I could help.  Clutched in her dimpled hand, in the tub, was baby Jesus.  Chelsea tried to pry it from her hands but she would have none of it.  Baby Jesus took a bath with her.

We all learned a lesson from Caroline.  She wanted to take Baby Jesus everywhere she went.  If Peppa Pig was sliding on the slide, then Baby Jesus needed to slide too.  When she was buckled into her car seat, Baby Jesus was right beside her.  She had made him a part of everything she did.

The Christmas trees are still up at Brother Bryan Mission.  The men here are clinging to the holiday spirit like kudzu.  As I came back from the post office today I heard holiday greetings being given to outside guests from the kitchen.   The men are learning what I am learning…that Baby Jesus is more than a story.  He is part of us.  He goes with us wherever we go.  We take Him on the street, into the office, in the kitchen, and into the classroom.  Isaiah 9:6 tells us “a child will be born unto us”.  And a child gives Him a turn on the slide on Christmas morning right behind Peppa Pig.  And she believes that when He slides, He shouts “Wheee!”  And maybe Caroline knows more about Christmas than we think.