Away in the Manger

by Diane Stark

Last year, our church haled a nativity pageant for the Christmas holiday. We reenacted the story of Jesus’ birth, complete with a set portraying Bethlehem, shepherds tending their flocks, the magi, and the stable where Jesus was born and placed in a manger.

My two-month-old son, Nathan, portrayed baby Jesus. He looked adorable, wearing a blue and white tunic. But I was worried. How would Nathan handle being in the manger for three hours? And when “Mary” picked him up, would he realize that she wasn’t his real mommy? I had visions of him crying because the spotlights bothered his eyes. I worried that he might have a diaper leak or spit up all over the woman playing Mary. My imagination ran away with me, convincing me that Nathan would ruin the entire program, making us outcasts in the community. My poor infant son would be branded a troublemaker for life. At his high school graduation, I imagined people pointing at him saying, “There’s that boy who ruined our Christmas program 17 years ago.”

My worries grew and grew until I was convinced Nathan shouldn’t play baby Jesus after all. I didn’t think he could handle the pressure.

I expressed my concerns (okay, my hysteria) to our church’s music director. She held up a baby doll and said, “This will be Nathan’s substitute. If he gets fussy, take him from the manger and replace him with the doll. No one will even notice.”

That seemed like the perfect solution. I managed to calm down – at least until opening night, when I overheard a little girl say, “Someone said that the baby Jesus is a real baby, Mommy! I can’t wait to see him!”  And then my crazy worrying started all over again.

I worried right up to and including the pageant. But then I overheard two little girls talking. Both children had just seen the program and both wore the same expression, a mixture of fascination and hope.

The first little girl said, “That play was awesome! It was neat to see angels and magi and even that real live camel!”

The second girl said, “I loved it, too. The camel was cool, but the real live baby Jesus was even better.”

The first girl’s eyes grew big. “It was a real baby? I thought it was a doll.”

“I saw his arm move,” the other girl whispered. “He was real.”

The first girl was unconvinced. “Anyways, it doesn’t matter if that baby was real. I know that the real Jesus is real.”

I smiled at their conversation, touched by the girl’s faith. I wondered which version of the program the girls had seen, with Nathan or with the doll. But did it matter? Nathan’s presence – or lack of it – hadn’t made any difference in the message the girls had received. Jesus is real, and he loved us enough to humble himself and come to earth as a baby. Both girls heard the same incredible message of God’s love.

And I realized that, as usual, all my worrying had been for nothing. I had been so distracted by little things, such as a crying baby and diaper leaks, that I completely missed the reason we were putting on the pageant in the first place.

At this time of year, it’s easy to become distracted by little details that seem important at the time, but don’t mean anything at all in the long run. The gift buying, the decorating, the rushing about – it’s easy to forget why we do any of it. But then something will happen to remind me, like the conversation between the two little girls.

Jesus is real. And he’s the reason behind everything I do.

Diane Stark lives in Indiana where she writes about the important things in life: her family and her faith

Reprinted from Faith and Friends

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