Our Christmas decorations include an ornate nativity set which pre-teen Amanda and I scored at the old Brendles catalog store on the hill behind Crabtree Valley Mall many years ago. We visited the store on a busy December Saturday after spying that perfect gift in the glossy flyer stuffed in the News and Observer the Sunday before. The clerk shared that we had arrived just in time to pick up the last one.
Amanda carefully wrapped the box and delightfully presented it to Shawn on Christmas morning. A Nichols family tradition was born, and our Christmas decorating, usually performed on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving, remains incomplete until that nativity set is displayed in a prominent location.
Our tradition grew to include the act of Dad hiding the figurine of Baby Jesus as our decorations went up. The empty hand-carved manger reminded us during December that Christmas exists because of Jesus and only because of Jesus. On Christmas Eve after the kids were snuggled in their beds I would retrieve the figurine of Baby Jesus and add Him to the display. And, yes, our girls checked to verify His presence on Christmas morning, before the presents. He is the only Gift that matters.
And then tragedy struck.
Shawn decided one year to snag Baby Jesus and hide Him herself though she knew well enough that the job belonged to Dad. And she promptly forgot her chosen location which she picked during the busyness of that Saturday morning after Thanksgiving. I could not believe my ears when I asked her for Baby Jesus only to find that she could not recall where she had hidden the Prize.
What? You must be joking?
She was not!
The two of us tore the house apart looking for the lost figurine. Though we searched high and low and later recruited the girls to help us, we did not find Jesus that Christmas. When the decorations came down, and the boxes went back into the attic the nativity set seemed particularly pitiful with an empty manger.
Poor Shawn. She caught flack in coming years as the empty manger resurfaced each season. I joked, “What kind of crazy woman looses Baby Jesus?” A friend, upon hearing our sad story, donated a replacement Baby Jesus figurine which gets the job done, but the cloud of uncertainty remains.
Where did Baby Jesus go?
We’ve moved the furniture in the living room several times since then during popcorn ceiling removal, carpet cleanings, wall painting, and weekly preparation for the small group that once gathered here on Thursday nights. In all that activity the figurine of Baby Jesus has eluded us.
The kids grew up, married, and started their own Christmas traditions, but Shawn and I continue to place the nativity set each year and ask ourselves, “Where could He be?”
Fast forward to August 2023.
Shawn found Baby Jesus!
And in the most unlikely spot.
We are purging our belongings. That means every box, cabinet, hiding spot, nook and cranny gets opened up, evaluated and graded. Useful stuff that we need to shed goes to the Durham Rescue Mission. Junk rides the back of the pickup truck until I plop it into the huge dumpsters at the Wake County Recycling Center.
Shawn began on her China cabinet this week, and as she pulled items from the shelves, she lifted the lid from the sugar bowl of her Grandma Smith’s childhood tea set. And there, resting in the darkness, waited our lost figurine of Baby Jesus.
After so many years!
Our upcoming Christmas celebration will include the full-tradition once again. Shawn wrapped the figurine in tissue paper and I stowed it in the locking fireproof box that Mom left us. Who would think of looking for Him there?
Well, I hope I will in 141 days when I need to add Him to the nativity display.
Take time to answer the question that will change your life.
Have you found Jesus?