Today there is a stand of five Crape Myrtles in our parking lot in memory of those children, whose contributions to our church have proved far greater than bricks and mortar. Hardy bushes for a hardy family. In the harshest time of the Texas summer they blossom into crimson majesty.
Maurine taught the three-year old Sunday School class for years and years. And over all those years she amassed the most amazing Nativity Set I’ve ever seen.
She started out with the conventional Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. And, of course, three wise men with camels, an angel, a few shepherds and some sheep and cows.
Then she invited the children of her class to bring their own figures to be part of the Nativity. Over the years, it grew and grew, as more and more children brought their own offering to the scene. It took fifty years but she ended up with well over a hundred figures. It took two 10-foot tables to hold it all.
There were the little Fisher-Price play people, the bride and groom from a wedding cake, horses, more cows, more horses, armadillos, skunks, pigs, cats, dogs, and even a snake.
Let’s stop here for a minute to consider having a snake amongst the other animals standing around the Baby Messiah. As you might remember, the snake has somewhat of a history with humanity. He didn't come out looking so good all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Was he invited? Or did he come on his own? And what does that say either way you look at it? Or does it even matter? I don’t imagine much theological analysis was done before Johnny grabbed a toy as he ran out the door on the way to Sunday School. But it still gives you something to think about. Children are like that.
If a child brought it to Maurine, she put it by the manger. There were several green plastic army guys among the shepherds and wise men. And many,many angels. Angels of all sizes and material: clay, china, glass, fabric, big angels of starched linen and tiny angels of blown glass. Big angels, sturdy angels and many delicate angels with broken wings.
One year I spotted a few toothpicks and some red cellophane crinkled up together. I asked what it was. She was astonished I would ask: “Why, it’s a little campfire. It got cold out there at night!”
Our nativity set at home is likewise a humble assortment of several sets with missing pieces all combined into one. We’ve ended up with several angels of all sizes and shapes. It’s a little old and worn. After all, it’s survived two little girls.
A lot of the delicate parts of the animals are broken. A couple of camel legs and most of the lambs’ limbs are gone. The angel’s wings, of course, have suffered also. But I’m not sure I really trust a nativity set with a complete set of angel wings. That usually means that children haven’t been allowed to touch it. We all need to touch the Nativity and make it our own. We need to move the sheep and shepherds around a little bit. We all need to hold the Baby Jesus.
And the snowman in our Nativity is also showing his age. Emily made it in kindergarten over 30 years ago. He’s made out of some sort of soapflake clay-like concoction. He was white years ago but has turned sort of brown with age. One side of him has a black splotch where an advent candle got too close to him. His nose has ended up nearer his chin than the center of his face. And his head falls off if we move him at all.
Emily is always embarrassed when I put in the nativity. She can’t understand why I insist on including him every year. Her main argument is not his appearance; she claims that snowmen do not belong in Nativity scenes.
That’s where she’s wrong. The snowman is us: he’s you and me. He is the Everyman of the ancient story. I’ve always thought we should include something from our modern day in with the usual ancient characters. We belong there, too.
With Big Bird…….
And Cookie Monster.
We stand by the shepherds and watch for the Messiah. We’re just as awed and puzzled as the others. Sometimes we’re brown from age and have trouble keeping our heads on tight. But, make no mistake, we’re there alongside Mary and Joseph. We watch with the others and wait.