by Cristen Alexandria Mangrum
In chapel a few weeks back we were asked to think of our favorite Christmas moment or something of the like at which I promptly drew a blank. In my defense, it was after all, only ten in the morning. After exchanging lame half-truths of Christmas’s that were memorable, or memorable enough to fill the three minutes we were given, my friend and I, with whom I shared my sorry excuse of a story, returned to our banter, none of which was mildly Christmas related. After the service I was a little bit upset that nothing from my childhood Christmas stood out. Nothing? Really?
Then I remembered the Christmas party of 1998 which will forever be a big hit, not because I got done up fancy but because of the Christmas Crèche. The Crèche has, for as long as I can remember, come out yearly in a pinstripe box from the 1950’s which looks out of place 364 days out of the year, except for when it makes it’s debut sometime around the first week of December. Containing the nativity scene of my mother’s childhood, it bears little resemblance to anything modern day productions have created. Chipped yet chic, it has always been my job to assemble Mary, Joseph, the various animals, an ensemble of holy looking Wise Men, and of course the big baby J himself into the typical Christmas story scene. While all of the characters and animals alike have held positions ranging from traditional to avante garde at my more creative moments (as mostly demonstrated between ages 4-6), the position of the infant Jesus rarely changes, because, after all, he is the main event, the real deal, the man behind the month to which we dedicate our devotion.
The Crèche depicts that Holy Night long ago when Jesus, after months which must have seemed longer than years to his expectant family, both Holy and human, became no longer an abstract glimmer of hope for Earth but tangible flesh, basked in hay encased in the perfectly crafted manger, as set upon our rosewood coffee-table, of course. The appearance of Jesus days prior to the actual Christmas day was never questioned as everyone knew that Christmas was the celebration of his birthday, so what did it matter if he showed up to his party all month long, days before his designated ‘birth’. These traditions formed the basic tenets of my Christmas season, the joys to which I took pleasure, the kickoff of the whole Christmas shebang.
Until of course, TLC showed up to the holiday party my parents had given to the members of the Session of our church. "Tanya Cook" (the "L" still eludes me to this day) or “TLC” as she signed gifts, cards, or referred to herself fondly in third person, had barely placed her foot in the door before rushing to the crèche, this time set up more traditionally for the evening’s affair. “YOU HAVE TO PUT THIS AWAY!!” she cried, plucking the sleeping Holy infant from his designated spot of the night into my chubby palms. “Christmas isn’t here yet!! He only comes out on Christmas!!”. Bewildered, I marched little baby Jesus into the closest closeted space one could find; our silverware drawer. Baffled by not only the desecration of my carefully positioned crèche creation, and by so many adults looming above, cheek pinching and gabbing, it is without a doubt that His ride into the drawer was less than graceful. He remained as such until the next morning when upon unloading the dishwasher he was found by my equally bewildered mother, tangled in the daggers of forks and knives unfit for the party the night before. My mom, with little questioning, managed to get the details of the previous evenings scenario out of me. "TLC" was known for her outrageous and rash actions, so her party trick caused slight guffaw from the Mangrum clan. Innocent Jesus returned to his safe homestead with mother Mary and father Joseph and the others protecting him throughout the remainder of the Christmas season.
I did not give the incident much thought at the time as I was, after all, eight years of age, with Santa’s impending arrival heavily on the mind. To be honest, I do not know why all of the story comes back to me some eleven years later, when the Advent season is neither pressing on my mind nor as appreciated as it has been in years past, when life moved slower, His coming as festive and as fraught as on some small fraction I think it must have been for Mary and Joseph trekking to Bethlehem countless centuries ago. I think I recalled now because I recognize some many miles down my own journey of faith that I now know what it means to wait. To go hours and days and months with the mundane of the everyday, in expectancy of what is to Come, even though it may not be visible at the present time. To Yearn for a Christ that is tangible and present, visible for all. To understand the excitement and nervousness Mary must have felt knowing what lay in store for her as placed by God.
While unwrapping the crèche box bears little resemblance to carrying the Son of God in one’s belly, I do believe that in some small way there is the same expectant urgency in beginning the celebration of something glorious as begun with the Advent season. Some small assurance that no matter the years, Christ will come, incarnate and alive, waiting to follow us into whatever home we may inhabit, wrapped in the promise of a story so alive and rich and steeped in tradition it transcends time and the trappings of the modern day.
Perhaps that is what "TLC" tried to teach me by snatching him away until his proper day that December night, but I’d prefer to think He was where He should have been all along, inside our home, an obvious light to all of the real reason for the special china, occasions, festivity. Christ is alive whether he is sitting on the coffee table wedged between Mary and friends, or whether he is not so observably placed, wedged between agendas, schedules, pain; the boxes we encase him in eleven months out of the year, until we are humbled and called to be reminded of his Glory.
Come, let us adore Him.