In the manger? Not in the manger?
Do we heighten the anticipation and leave the Baby Jesus out of the manger in the Nativity that sits on our entry table until Christmas or do we put Him in? It’s December, the month of eager anticipation. Waiting is what we are supposed to do in December. And so I decide to leave Him out until the night of December 24.
It happens every December. This welcome guest, Anticipation, brings along Expectation. And they become my foolish companions. They hang around all month, promising to introduce me to what we’re waiting for — Perfection. If we work hard enough, Perfection will arrive. It’s a promise!
A tree decorated so finely everyone who comes to the house will enter with an “ooooh” and add an “ahhhh.” Family togetherness and love, nary a cross word nor a pouting child. Best cookies ever and not a single burnt pan finding its way into the trash. Christmas lights that stay lit through the whole month, a gala display to impress the neighbors. Inspiring and uplifting concerts and plays, not a note out of tune, nor a line forgotten. Perfect gifts — perfectly picked, perfectly wrapped, perfectly appreciated. And all without putting a dent in the household budget, of course.
As we work for, and wait for, Perfection, Anticipation turns to Apprehension, Expectation to Disappointment. Our companions become unwelcome guests at best, enemies in the war for our hearts at their worst.
This morning I changed our routine. I put Jesus in the manger. As a reminder that Perfection is already here. Delivered 2,000 years ago in a small package. Wrapped in swaddling clothes, and left in a messy, smelly barn. In the care of what had to be a confused teen and her equally dumbfounded fiancé. Announced to lowly, lonely goatherds by an angel, who could scarcely hold back the eager multitude while she delivered her (probably well-rehearsed) monologue. Worshipped by wise men, scholars of the skies, who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and the dust of a long desert trip on their clothing and feet.
Aha! Perfection looks far different than my vision… It is the gift I so eagerly strive for, anticipate, expect, and then I don’t recognize that it is here.
So, this year, I am going to the manger every day* from now to Christmas to see what’s there, what perfect gift is wrapped in that tiny little package in the swaddling clothes. Today it’s Forgiveness. Forgiveness for my need to be the one who is worshipped.
“And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” — Acts 22:16
*Thanks to Brenda Lowther of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, who introduced me to Pastor Jeff of Springfield, Missouri, and his question: “What’s in the Manger (Is it Enough?).”