Archive for the ‘A Nativity Story’ Category

I’m not someone usually found in church on Christmas Eve or, if I can help it, anywhere near La Grange, Texas. But Andy, my nine-year old nephew had called full of news: he’d been cast as one of the three wise men—the wisest—according to him or at least the one with the most lines. Any second thoughts or excuses I might have were quashed when Andy delivered the closer: there would a real live Baby Jesus.

It was clear upon entering the church that they had gone all out for this year’s Nativity: Volvos in the parking lot were missing seat covers so kids playing the lambs had woolly coats. The baby Jesus, as advertised, was indeed real and wiggling in the arms of the Virgin Mary, portrayed by a tall girl who seemed not only older than the other children, but also somewhat drunk … slack-jawed with an odd tilt to her head. She must have gotten into the communion wine backstage. The pressure of Christmas.

I too have always struggled with Christmas. The pressure of gifting. The incessant Christmas carols, the baby Jesus thing, Santa Claus—fairy tales, myths told to children so that one day they can feel lied to which I suppose is the real training for becoming an adult. My own childish belief had been shattered by a pair of cynical six-year olds and as I grew into a holiday hardened teen I remembered firing a question at the priest concerning all the frippery and seasonal dressings of the church, “How would Jesus feel about all this stuff?”

Father Vander was a sharp-tongued chain smoker rumored to have once strangled an altar boy. I braced myself, but he answered quietly, “The trappings of the church are merely reminders—an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”

Meanwhile, back in Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary were having some halting exchanges of dialogue when it became apparent that the Virgin Mary was not tanked. She was “special”. Challenged. The poor girl had a disability and was trying her darnedest to get her lines spoken while maintaining a grasp on an infant tweaking on sugar. The actual mother was easily located: front row, leaning towards her child like a hungry leopard.

Enter the Three Wise Men: Andy was resplendent in a purple robe, previously a plastic shower curtain. Holding his gift for the Baby Jesus, a foil-wrapped cigar box. The other Wise Men were also outfitted in shower curtains of watermelon and avocado respectively. The Baby Jesus, however, was not responding well to this color combination that was now moving towards him.

“I offer this gift of frankincense to honor the blessed child,” Andy said as he   extended his gift, and then Baby Jesus lost it: with one kick of his tiny legs, he broke free and we all watched the Baby Jesus execute a half-gainer, bounce with an audible burp on a padded step, roll over the wine-colored carpet and come to rest on his back, arms spread to the heavens.

A horrified gasp erupted from the congregation. No matter what you believe in, watching a baby free fall does affect you: your arms extend from hopeless distances. The infant’s mother sprang forward like a sprinter. But Andy, being nearer, swooped down and casually retrieved the Baby Jesus as if he were no more than an errant basketball. We all waited for the tears, but instead a big loopy grin spread across the infant’s face.

Unlike the Virgin Mary, who with hands clasped over her mouth, eyes brimming with regret, was sinking into her own private hell. And it was here that Andy did the amazing thing: he walked over and handed the baby back. Back to the girl that just dropped it! It was like watching someone tugged back from the brink of a life-crippling memory—forever marked as the girl who dropped the baby Jesus. Gratefully, she took the child from Andy and delivered her final line. The house lights came up to deafening applause while the lambs ripped off their seat covers.

I had that light-bodied feeling I get whenever I’ve forgotten about myself for over a minute. My eyes were still on Andy, and having just witnessed a child’s spontaneous act of generosity, I felt something like pride. Rather than blame—Andy had given the gift of a second chance.

I listened to the happy burble of humanity as the crowd moved towards the doors. Like I said, I don’t often come to these things, but there was something special in the air that night. In Father Vander’s words—an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”   Merry Christmas, everyone!

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