I don’t know when my father made me a manger. At some point in my early adult life when I no longer lived at home, Dad made me one just like the manger he made for our little family. We always reverently placed the holy family into the rustic papier-mâché model of the stable where legend and tradition tells us that Jesus was born.
That manger scene has traveled with me through many moves — from Ohio to California to North Dakota and to Chicago, where it has been the focal point of my Christmas decorating for years of Christmas Eves. We always put the baby in the manger when we set up the scene; my brothers and I waited with bated breath to see who would unroll the tissue paper bundle containing the baby Jesus in his manger. Our current church has a tradition of having Mary and Joseph traveling on the road during Advent, and the family of three does not appear in the manger scene until Christmas Eve. I, on the other hand, like seeing the baby in the manger and it reminds me of my family Christmas Eve celebrations.
Last year when I put away the manger scene, I noted that it needed some repair. The papier-mâché was chipping away and the roof had become unstable. I set up the scene, but laid the roof aside and put some brown craft paint on my to-do list.
After I picked up my supplies, I dabbed some paint on the most obvious of the problems, and tried to glue the roof back together. Dad’s original work was pretty imprecise, and there isn’t any way to really fix up the cracks in the roof with taking the whole thing apart and recutting it. And why do I need to? Dad’s gift of love is perfect in its imperfections, just as the story of Christmas and the virgin birth is.
I know that the idea of Jesus being born in a barn-like structure is Western Christianity’s interpretation of the story from the Gospels. If Jesus was born outside of an inn at all, it was likely in a cave. I’m still okay with my dad’s stable to remind me of the importance of family and love without boundaries.
Even though I know that it is unlikely that there were actually shepherds present at the birth of Jesus, there are still shepherds in my manger scene. I’d like to think that gentle shepherds guide us through life.
Even though I know that the kings didn’t really come to visit Jesus until he was a toddler, there are still maji present in my manger scene.
Whether Jesus was born in a cave, an inn, or in a barn isn’t important. What’s important is the gift of this story that fills us with wonder and helps Christians to jumpstart our faith journey again every year.
And because it’s not Christmas until Art or Libby(or both of them together) sings “O Holy Night,” I leave you with Charlotte Church’s rendition. Sadly, neither Mom or Dad will be singing their favorite wailing Christmas hymn ever again on this earth, and I’m going to have to sing it myself today in honor of them.