I found it in the bottom of a box marked kitchen in big bold Sharpie script. Moving and packing can throw the best laid organizational plans askew. Not enough space in a box mixes with too much space and they birth miscellaneous. That might have been a deep analogy of life, but this blog isn’t going there. The fact is, the nativity set shouldn’t have been where I found it.
It’s been stored since after Mom died. I just never brought it out again. It was the manger scene I grew up with, my first images of what the first Christmas story looked like 3-D. That set was precious to me. I remember as a child, how I moved the figures for hours on end. Shepherds climbed the hillsides of chairs, wisemen and camels marched across the desert floors and of course I rocked baby Jesus then laid him in the manger like Mary.
The shepherds had the unfortunate luck of orange colored clothes, so they got the least attention. The magi dressed in finery riding on camels got preference. But the angel was always my favorite.
Down on my knees, I reached into the bottom of the box and lifted out a yellowed-newspaper-wrapped treasure. I peeled off the old paper and found not the exotic stable I remembered, but a cheap looking poorly built facsimile of what my childish imagination had created.
I thought it was a whole lot nicer.
I thought it was elaborately beautiful, but it’s not even real wood. The characters are hollow plaster of paris not porcelain.
I unwrapped the figurines one by one. Nicked plaster molded images came out. The orange of the shepherd’s cloak and purple robe of Joseph were much more hideous than my memory allowed. I’d forgotten the one in green. He’d not even made the cut of nostalgia.
I kind of have a thing for nativity sets. In the overseas travels we’ve done, I’ve managed to accumulate some special ones. My childhood nativity set turned out to be actually almost embarrassingly ugly. My grown up eye judged all of it with the stall’s fake backdrop as dime store bought.
I walked the old stable around my living room. But I found everywhere I placed it was like parking an old beat up Chevy next to a Ferrari. My Ecuadorian manger set seemed to turn its back on my beloved creche. The German Holy Family looked down their noses like wealthy barons. Even the Uganda hut was built with charm and grace, and the little people in it were just adorable enough to make my old farm set gauche.
My heart hurt a little for the loss of young wistful affection at battle with adult reality.
I hadn’t planned to put it up. For that matter, I hadn’t expected to find it beckoning from the bottom of the box stuffed with kitchen odds and ends.
So I picked it back up and fixed a spot for it in our bedroom, where no one would see it until I figured out what to do with it. I unwrapped piece by piece, pleased to see they were all there. When I picked up the last paper covered one, I felt the form of wings inside. It was my angel.
everywhere I placed the nativity set was like parking an old beat up Chevy next to a Ferrari
I rolled her out and gasped in disappointment.
My angel’s wing was clipped.
Well rats, I thought. What good is a clipped angel? The plaster underneath showed like a white gaping wound. I held her for a bit not sure if I should throw her back into the box, but decided on postponing it till the next day and hung her up on her spot by the cut out star.
“I can put it away tomorrow,” I thought.
The next day I opened my eyes, and there it was, ugly and beautiful at the same time. Something about the connection of its past brought me comfort. I felt happy to see it there. All day, every time I walked past it I fingered and repositioned one of the characters a little, then left with a smile.
“I’ll leave it up one more day,” I determined.
After three days, I’d become accustomed to walking into my bedroom and seeing it first thing. I think the very real Luke 2 Christmas probably had an unassuming shabbiness too.
And that angel with her gashed wing tugged at my heart. We kind of bonded.
In many ways I’ve felt this year has clipped my wings.
There has been the transitioning move to semi-retirement. It’s been a slow change in lifetime ministry with ripples that leak like a dam at times. Moving with its uprooting, renovation and chaos have all clipped my wings. Losses. Good-byes. Covid. Restrictions.
This morning I looked up from my Bible reading and there sat something from my long ago. It’s a little bit as if with each fresh gaze at the old manger scene, light mourning sheds some weight of grief. Memories of childish warm tradition and togetherness brings back some of the connection this year has robbed.
Though my circumstances may leave some damage to my heart, not unlike that poor angel dangling from matted cardboard, my soul is sheltered safe in the arms of my Savior.
“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge…” and I recognize again that spot under His wings is the best place to be. I acknowledge that His covering is complete.
“…his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4 (NIV)
I am comforted knowing in spite of my own clipped wings, regardless of some dinged injury here and there to my being, He is my faithful shield and strong fortress. He is my constant.
She might have smiled at me, that angel with the clipped wing.
She could even have winked, I can’t be sure.
Then again, a grown woman might be learning to see true beauty and value with the eyes of a child.