Former columnist for the Los Angeles Post Examiner, the Baltimore Post Examiner, and Gatehouse News Service

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Nativity and Sandy Hook

Nativity of Christ
I have been struggling to come to grips with, much less write about, the Sandy Hook school tragedy. Tears stand at the ready at a mere mention of small children, and I send my own middle-schooler off with a twinge of trepidation.  He gets more hugging at the door, more texts after school, asking him to come home sooner, rather than later.

To the left is our family nativity display, which we have had for many years. I started collecting the pieces when my first two sons, now in their twenties, were small, and we had very little extra money. Each year I looked forward to the following Christmas, when I could add animals, or the wise men, or a few trees. But that first year it started with just Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. In the early years the Holy Family looked like us; just a roof over their heads, and  the three of them only -- mother, father, and child.

Through the years these porcelain figurines in their manger have weathered life with us at Christmas time.  They have hosted plastic army men when the boys were little; they have hidden crayons, or matchbox cars, or sticks of gum, standing frozen in their tableau. The boys, no matter where they are in their lives and in the world, gather in December to unwrap the figurines, placing them wherever they'd like. (When my youngest son was little, he proudly showed my that Baby Jesus could balance on the manger's roof.) We have added to the scene over the years, and their manger received an upgrade five or so years ago, so they are like us -- their world has gotten more crowded, busier, more full of stuff.  Each year after Christmas they are wrapped in newspaper -- sometimes the sports pages, sometimes the Metro section, and I feel that they are absorbing the sadnesses and tribulations of the year past, as they are carefully put away and stored back in the basement. If we had a fire, that basket would be my one thing to save.

This year, our hearts were heavy as we put the beloved figurines in their places. I started fighting back tears as I looked to my downcast husband to say a prayer with all of us there -- I knew the prayer would be heartbreaking. I looked at the little baby in his stone manger, so innocent, still far away from the violent ending he would face.  Ending is the wrong word, though; fulfillment is a better one.  He was going home, and he always knew it. His earthly life was just temporary, and those left mourning would be reunited with him in no time at all, when compared with eternity.

It would seem that the harder things get in life, the more irrelevant, even silly, a few pieces of mass-produced porcelain would be.  How can they help?  They don't reflect the reality of our stressful, busy lives, there in their old-fashioned manger.  And yet I know God is life's reality because the Nativity scene's meaning keeps increasing, keeps drawing us in, the sadder and harder things get.  Something in our souls is answering a call when we move closer -- our Home is not here.  We are passing by, raising children, helping others, looking for meaning.  And then we fly away, alone, for the home that has many open doors and no end to joy. 

You are home, little ones and brave adults. And the sadness of your loved ones is a precursor to the great joy of a coming reunion -- a reunion that never ends.

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