During the tour, one person noticed the small nativity scene on my desk & admired it’s simplicity & loveliness. After examining it more closely, she noticed the empty manger & asked, “where’s the Baby Jesus?”. Her question brought back memories of the year I purchased the broken nativity setting.
I was very bitter & disheartened that year because my parents, after 36 years of marriage were getting a divorce. I could not accept their decision to part & I became depressed, not realizing they needed my love & understanding more than ever.
My thoughts were constantly filled with childhood memories: the huge Christmas trees, the gleaming decorations, the love we shared as a close family. Every time I thought about those moments I’d burst into tears, being sure I’d never feel the spirit of Christmas again.
My children were afraid that there wouldn’t be any snow for the holidays that year, but two days before Christmas it began to fall. Beautifully & quietly it came during the morning & by evening it covered everything in sight. I needed to go in to town to buy some ribbon & wrapping paper, but I dreaded the idea. Even the new-fallen snow stirred memories of the past.
The store was crowded with last minute shoppers- pushing, shoving & complaining as they grabbed from shelves & racks, not bothering to put unwanted articles back in place. Christmas tree lights dangled from open boxes & the new dolls & stuffed toys reminded me of neglected orphans who had no home. A small nativity scene had fallen to the floor in front of my shopping cart & I stopped to put it back on the shelf. After glancing at the endless check-out line I decided it wasn’t worth the effort & made up my mind to leave when suddenly I heard a loud, sharp voice cry out. “Sarah! you get that thing out of your mouth right now!” “But mommy I wasn’t puttin’ it in my mouth! See, I was kissin’ it! Look Mommy, it’s a little baby Jesus!”
“Well I don’t care what it is! You put it down right now! Do you hear me!”
“But look Mommy,” the child insisted. “It’s all broken. It’s a little manger & the Baby Jesus got broked off!” As listened from the next aisle , I found myself smiling &wanted to see the little girl who had kissed the Baby Jesus. I quietly moved some cartons aside & peeked through a space between the shelves. She appeared to be about four or five years old & was not properly dressed for the cold, wet weather. Instead of a coat she wore a bulky sweater several sizes too large for her small, slender body. Bright colourful pieces of yarn were tied to the ends of her braids, making her look cheerful despite her ragged attire.
I continued to watch as she clutched the little doll to her cheek, & then she began to hum. Tears slowly filled my eyes as I recognized the melody. Another memory from my childhood, a familiar little song: “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed the little lord Jesus lay down his sweet head” She had stopped humming & was softly singing the words. Reluctantly I turned my eyes to her mother. She was paying no attention to the child but was anxiously looking through the marked down winter coats displayed on the bargain rack near the end of the counter. Like her daughter she was rather shabbily dressed & her torn, dirty tennis shoes were wet from the cold, melting snow. In her shopping trolley was a small baby bundled snugly in a thick, washed-out yellow blanket, sleeping peacefully.
“Mommy!” the little girl called to her. “Can we buy this here little Baby Jesus? We can set him on the table by the couch & we could...”
“I told you to put that down!” her mother interrupted. “You get yourself over here right now, or I’m gonna give you a spankin’. You hear me girl?”
“But Mommy!” exclaimed the chld. “I bet we could buy it real cheap ‘cause it’s all broken. You said we aint gonna get no Christmas tree , so cant we buy this here little Baby Jesus instead? Please, Mommy, please?” Angrily the woman hurried toward the child, & I turned away, not wanting to see, expecting her to punish the child as she had threatened. A few seconds passed as I waited tensely, but I did not hear a sound coming from the next aisle. No movement, no scolding. Just complete silence. Puzzled, I peered from the corners of my eyes & was astonished to see the mother kneeling on the wet , dirty floor, holding the child close to her trembling body. She struggled to say something but only managed a desperate sob & the little girl seemed to understand her despair. “Don’t cry Mommy !” she pleaded. Wrapping her arms around her mother she nestled her head against the woman’s faded jacket & avidly apologized for her behaviour. “I’m sorry I wasn’t good in this store I promise I won’t ask for nothin’ else! I don’t want this here little Baby Jesus. Really I don’t! See I’ll put him back here in the manger. Please don’t cry no more Mommy!”
“I’m sorry, too, honey,” answered her mother, finally. “You no I don’t have enough money to by anything extra right now, & I’m just crying ‘cos I wished I did- it being Christmas & all..but I bet ol’ Santa is going to bring you those pretty little play dishes you been wantin’ if you promise to be a real good girl & maybe next year we can get a real Christmas tree. How about that! Let’s go home now ‘fore Jackie wakes up & starts cryin’ too”. She laughed softly as she hugged her daughter then kissed her quickly on the forehead.
The little girl was still holding the doll in her hands. She turned to put it on the shelf glowing with anticipation. The possibility that Santa might bring her a set of dishes was all she needed to be happy once more.
“You know what Mommy?” she announced excitedly. “I don’t really need this here Baby Jesus doll anyhow! You know why? “'cos my Sunday school teacher says Baby Jesus really lives in my heart!”
I looked at the nativity scene & realized that a baby born in a stable some two thousand years ago was a person who still walks with us today, making his presence known; working to bring us through the difficulties of life, if only we let him. To share in the glorious wonder of this holiday celebration & to be able to see God in Christ, I knew I must first experience him in the heart.
“Thank you, God,” I began to pray. “Thank you for a wonderful childhood filled with precious memories & for parents who provided a home for me & gave me the love I needed during the most important years of my life, but most of all thank you for giving your Son.”
Quickly I gathered the nativity scene pieces & hurried to the check-out counter. Recognizing one of the girls I asked her to give the doll to the little girl who was leaving the store with her mother, explaining that I would pay later. I watched the child accept the gift & then saw her give “Baby Jesus” another kiss as she walked out the door.
Once again Christmas is approaching. Christmas: a time for rejoicing, a time for giving, a time for remembering!
The little broken nativity scene I purchased that evening graces my desk every Christmas. It’s there to remind me of a child whose simple words touched my life."
Jeannie.S.Williams from Chicken Soup for the Soul Christmas Treasury