It’s Christmas eve here in Kenya, and the kids are getting ready for bed… on that night above all other nights when kids can’t wait to get to bed. It’s fun to re-live the anticipation of Christmas morning through the eyes of our children. We talked about anticipation at dinner tonight. Imagining how Mary must have felt. Wondering what the wise men talked about on their long journey chasing the star. We have the ceramic nativity scene set up as we have every year, and I find that I can still get lost in it. I remembered a short devotional I wrote a few years back about just that. I don’t think I have ever posted it, so I’ve copied it below. And I still count myself among the shepherds…

“Baby Jesus lost an arm this Christmas. I heard the telltale sound of ceramic and fireplace brick colliding at our mantle downstairs. A speedy investigation caught the culprits red-handed – our four-year-old clutching the bed of hay (minus the baby) and his little neighbor friend with a helpless little lamb in his grip. They looked up at me speechless for a moment, and then proceeded to blame each other for the mishap.

I gave my son a swift reprimand for disobeying mom’s orders not to touch the manger scene, and his friend was sent home. I then got out the super glue and easily fixed the babe’s little arm, and set him back in place under the tender gaze of Mary. I paused a moment and looked at the familiar scene of our Christmas tradition. On the one side three wise men stood bearing gifts, themselves adorned in rich clothing. Even their camels were ornate. In the middle were the tired couple and the baby, and one angel to represent a multitude of heavenly hosts presumably. And on the other side, was the riff-raff: Two shepherds in rags trailing smelly animals.

Standing there and pondering the arrangement, it occurred to me how much theology was wrapped up in that scene. Kings to pay homage to the King of Kings. Angels bow down. God using the simple things to shame the wise – a teenage girl, a stable, and Immanuel lying in hay. And the shepherds. What else could they be there for except to show that everyone was welcome? Looking at the array above our fireplace, I wondered where I would be standing if I could enter the scene.

Of course, I would be with them. We all would. In fact, on closer examination, it becomes apparent that even the wise men are “dressed in rags” as they kneel before the child. This ceramic rendition of the greatest story ever told has always had a central spot in our home each December. Now I remember why it also has the centerpiece of our hearts. Because what I saw in the guilty eyes of my young son as he blamed his friend, is what I see in my own broken nature, and what I imagine it looked like in the garden some time back when Adam pointed a finger at Eve. We are a hopeless mess. But hope, it seems, came unexpectedly and wrapped in swaddling clothes. And since then, Christmas can be summed up in three words far too profound for my little head… God. With. Us.