By Nikki Studebaker Barcus
You know those Christmas movies where the whole family gathers around a beautiful tree, singing and decorating while they munch on popcorn and sip steaming mugs of cocoa? You know, the ones where the whole family fits at one gorgeous dining table, dressed in their finest and eat from fine china? Yeah, those movies make Christmas seem so sweet and warm and wonderful.
Well, that is not the way things go down around my house. Inevitably, the lights on the tree don't work and hubby grumps and growls, kicks the cat, and finally gives up, turning the dark spot toward the wall. The kids fight over who gets to put on which ornament and while their attention is diverted the dog slurps the marshmallows off the top of the hot chocolate. Our entire family never fits at the same table and elastic-waisted pants are in vogue. And even if we owned enough china for the whole clan, what nut would trust the kids with it and who wants to spend the afternoon sweating over a sink full of suds anyway?
But every year I look forward to the one tradition that is mine and mine alone. I can complete it to perfection, it always produces beautiful results, there are no fuses to blow, pieces to loose, or someone to show up at the last minute and throw off my carefully laid plans. It is the staging of the nativity set. In the minutes after the tree is up and the stockings are hung, when hubby carries boxes to the basement and the kids lose themselves in the rediscovered Christmas books, I pull out my beloved nativity set. No one begs to help. No one tells me how it should be done. No one gives me unwanted pointers. You see, it's always been my job.
In the little wooden stable created by my dad when I was a young girl, I arrange the ceramic animals. The donkey rests beside the feed box and the ox balances the scene with her dark bulk near the door. Then comes the Holy family. Mary is always on the right; Joseph to the left; baby Jesus positioned just so, front and center. Finally, I symmetrically arrange the three wise men and the shepherd boy carrying his lamb. I stand back and sigh a contented breath. No one can mess with my artful arrangement, my pleasing symmetry, my balance of color and light. Amid the chaos, it is one thing I can count on year after year to give me peace.
That is until the year someone couldn't keep their hands off my Jesus. The kids were small, all still in single digits and I never did find out who did it. I'd walk past the stable only to find the entire entourage lined up shoulder to shoulder facing the newborn King. I mean, you couldn't even see the little guy because they stood like a police line-up, backs toward the open doorway. I'd re-arrange everyone and breathe in a happy sigh, setting things to rights.
The next day, I'd walk by and now the whole crew formed a protective ring around the Tot in swaddling clothes. Reminding me of wagons circled to guard against enemy attack, there they stood, laid, or rested, eyes focused on the Baby. I'd huff, thinking that in their messing with my manger, my kids were likely to break one of the fragile figurines.
Then God spoke to my heart. Was Christmas about presenting a perfect picture? Was it about projecting a polished and put-together presentation? Or was Christmas about Jesus? Wasn't He the star of the show? Wasn't it His story that needed to be told and remembered?
For the rest of that year I left my hands off Jesus and His posse. I let my kids have their way with the cold, hard figurines because God had melted and softened my heart by their innocent actions. This week leading up to Christmas I pray for each of us, that we'll make Jesus the star of our holiday. That we will focus on Him. That we will strive less to create the perfect atmosphere and work more to capture the perfect attitude. I pray that in everything we do--working, writing, loving, entertaining, preparing--that we never fail to keep our focus on the One who came as a helpless babe, into a dirty, flawed, and sin-filled world so that we could be made perfect.