On my hearth, there is a mis-matched nativity scene. It includes four wise men of various sizes, two shepherds, two Marys, one baby Jesus, a Renaissance girl carrying a turkey and a basket of grapes (where did she come from?), a horse, a cow, and a sheep. There is no Joseph. I’ve decided he must be at the store getting diapers.
Behind the little group rests several porcelain snow-capped houses with chimneys and a tiny snow-capped church, with a sign that reads, “Christmas Service, 12:00 a.m.” At the moment, the angel Gabriel is resting on top of one of the chimneys. Perhaps he’s waiting for Santa.
As I watch my son maneuver this little crew, I can’t help but chuckle at his imagination. “Look, Mom. They’re having a party!” or “Mom, they make a village!”
Indeed, they do.
For years, I’ve collected nativity scenes. Each Christmas, I pull out these replicas of the first Christmas and display them around my house. I have big ones, medium-sized ones, and microscopic ones. I have nativity scenes from Mexico, Europe, India, Equador, Africa, and more than I can count which were made in Hong Kong. Some are humorous, such as the snowman nativity scene displayed in my entryway. Some are colorful, some plain. Some have elaborate detail, others are simple.
I’ve lost count of how many of these scenes I have. Last time I counted, it was in the fifties. But it never fails. Every year, somebody breaks or gets lost. And every year, when it’s time to put away the holiday decorations, new figures are added to the large zip-lock bag that holds the hodge-podge scenes.
Each of the other scenes has one thing in common: they’re perfect, complete replicas of the perfect, complete first Christmas. Although, one could argue that any time a newborn rests in the hay alongside farm animals, the scene is far from perfect. But that’s another story altogether.
The scenes remind me of pictures I see displayed on Christmas cards. You know the ones – the entire family gathered round the tree, fire blazing in the background. Everyone is smiling and laughing. Children are behaving. The dog sleeps cozily by the fireplace.
The perfect Christmas.
Over the years, as guests have commented on my collection, I’ve been asked, “Which is your favorite?”
I’ve never been able to choose. Each is unique and beautiful. Each adds a variety to the collection that I wouldn’t want to do without. But this year, I’ve finally decided on one which, in my mind, reflects the true spirit of Christmas.
It’s that little mismatched scene on my hearth. The only imperfect one in the bunch. The one that best represents reality.
Yeah, sure, we’d all like to have a perfect Christmas. We’d all like to have each of our loved ones together with us, healthy and strong and happy. We’d like to sit around a cozy fire with everyone who matters to us, drinking egg-nog and singing carols. That would be pretty close to perfect.
But that rarely happens. Families get separated by jobs and life circumstances. Loved ones move far away. Sometimes they’re too sick to travel. Sometimes, they’ve passed on before we were ready to say goodbye. And then, our hopes for a perfect Christmas are dashed.
We can either sit at home, sad and lonely, wishing things were different, or we can do what the little figures on my hearth have done. We can gather together, creating a family from whoever wants to join. We can love the people we’re with. We can laugh and sing and celebrate, knowing that even though things aren’t perfect, one thing will never, ever change: God’s love for us.
Christmas isn’t about having everything perfect. It’s about the One who is perfect. It’s about a holy, sinless God, loving us in spite of our flaws, in spite of our missing parts and broken pieces. It’s about Him knowing that we could never travel to Him, so He came to us.
It’s not about perfect circumstances. It’s about perfect love.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” John 3:16.