Tis the season for nativity sets. I lovingly unwrap Mary and baby Jesus every year. The sheep. The shepherds. There they sit. Holy. Beautiful. Lovely.
cue: record scratch
Unless you have kids in the house. Especially if you have boy kids in the house.
The things poor baby Jesus has been through in this family in years past are truly embarrassing.
I have found him in couch cushions.
In the back of dump trucks.
In the driveway.
I've had to bust up tiffs between siblings when baby Jesus was brought into their super hero battles. It's just not fair that baby Jesus wins every single time. Baby Jesus as an action figure is unstoppable.
I have found all the hallowed nativity people hanging with yarn on our Christmas tree. It was disturbing.
I have also picked Lego men out of the nativity scene.
"This is the last time I am going to tell you to stop throwing the baby Jesus. Last time, Mister!"
"Do not hit your brother with Mary."
"Get that shepherd's foot out of your nose."
"What's in your underwear?" Oh. All the wise men. Good. Good.
This famous cast of characters have been loaded in a big rig.
This was the nativity set where all the men looked like they worked at a carnival, and I'm almost positive baby Jesus was a four year old wrapped in a swim towel. Creepy. Look at him. He's in the top far right. He has molars and as much hair as Justin Bieber.
Then there was the year that one of our kids kept breastfeeding the baby Jesus. These are the things you don't bring up in Sunday School.
It's tempting to turn this story of a baby born to a teenage mother in a manger into something untouchable, off-limits-kind-of-holy, something we fancy up, get dressed up to tell, reading the Christmas scriptures in a strange, hushed, church voice. How many times have we been to a candle-light service, heard this story of a first-time, young mother giving birth without a midwife or her mother, in filthy conditions, and imagined something more pristine, more perfect, more glamorous than what really went down that night in Bethlehem. Rarely do I equate Christmas with sweat, screaming, blood, feces, an umbilical chord that needs cutting, a placenta, and exhausting pain. Yet that is exactly what the first Christmas must have been like.
When I'm tempted to make this story something other than it is, I try to remember that my child is probably dipping Mary in the toilet or nursing the baby Jesus as I type this.
Children know how to approach the manger. They have a way of taking all the frill, the fake, the phoney reverence out of the Christmas story, and maybe we should thank them for that. They see Jesus as approachable, someone who would want to hang out with them, someone who would welcome the Darth Vader Lego guy.
The truth is, the story of a King born a baby in a barn is not something we need our best clothes on to hear, or something we need to put on the highest, unreachable shelf. Yes this story is precious and requires reverence and awe when we really sit and contemplate all that God has done to win back rebellious people. But, I never want to forget that He came to our filth. Our dysfunction. He was born right into our complex, broken lives. Emmanuel. God with us. God with the distracted. The greedy. The back-talking children. The moms who fall asleep at night wondering if they could possibly fail more. God with the ones with secrets. The ones who feel left out. The ones who think they will never measure up. The ones with failing marriages. The insecure. The mean. The ones who never seem to learn. He came here. He was born in the middle of our junk. He came to be God with us. God in the middle of our homes. The middle of our living rooms. Right in the middle of the madness and mess...He came. Emmanuel. God with humans who are so utterly...hopelessly...human. He was born to a teenage mother who probably would have forgotten to take her prenatal vitamins.
So let's hear them. Your favorite nativity set stories. Will you share those with us?
Will you share something else too? I'm wanting to know your favorite kid-friendly nativity sets.
If I can get over my obsessive need for all the nativity crew to stay in the same room together, I will probably learn some great lessons this Christmas season from our children and the nativity set. I'm going to pay extra close attention because I think these little people are onto something. Maybe they relate best to what actually took place that night with Mary and Joseph. Perhaps we're the ones perpetually jacking this story up.
Related: When Baby Jesus is a Pepperoni