It seemed like a good idea at the time — if not altogether original.
It has been my practice for many years to ‘build the creche’ with the children during the children’s sermon during Advent. One week we add the animals. The next week the angels join them. Pretty soon Mary and Joseph arrive and not long after the baby Jesus and shepherds and the three sages from the East arrive last of all. The order is not perfect, of course, but it is one way of bringing the story home.
Every year I have also tried to have something to send home with the children to remind them of what or who had been added that week. Some years they would receive an inexpensive ornament every Sunday. Other years I would get more creative.
This year it was decided that we would have each child put together a puzzle of the nativity scene, adding the pieces each week which would roughly correspond with what we added together on Sunday morning. And so it is that I have spent a little time each week putting puzzle pieces into plastic bags. It has not worked perfectly, of course. Advent began on the Sunday after Thanksgiving so attendance was light and the next week we wound up giving out two bags to most of the children. And then there were those who missed the second week and we had to scramble to be sure each child got whatever pieces were missing from their collection so far.
Even with the confusion, it has worked out all right though and they do seem to be excited to be collecting and putting all the pieces together. It was not until just a couple of days before the fourth Sunday in Advent when I came upon a problem. For you see, as I was separating out some of the final pieces I realized that while the pieces will actually fit fine, there is an issue with how they were cut in correspondence with the picture in the first place. Or maybe not. It’s likely most people are not using these puzzles in just the way I am. In fact, I’m sure one would not notice unless all the ‘like pieces’ got mixed up together and you did as I did the other day and randomly put some of them together. For look closely here. Do you see how Mary actually has three eyes in this picture and the sheep’s chin is just a little off? (And yes, I know there is a whole lot more wrong with this picture in terms of historical accuracy. Truly, I will try to do better next time…)
And yet, it strikes me now that this is how it always is. You and I are who are called to bear this story to the world again — well, we do our very best to bring it home in a way that is meaningful to those who gather. And while we hope and pray that this ancient story will be heard and received as the wonder that it is, we know that our offering is likely always less than perfect. But perhaps even this helps bring the gift of Christmas home to us once more. For there was and is, only One who was perfect, of course. And yet somehow it is so that by God’s grace and gift, Jesus still gathers up all our mismatched pieces and turns them into something beautiful — whether it is in this re-telling or in all the ways in which we are called to bear God’s love and grace and kindness and hope to a world which is so very hungry for the gifts of God which have been entrusted to us. Will we ever get it completely right? Most likely not. But then, that is why Jesus came, isn’t it? Because of our brokenness, our fear, our despair, our inadequacy, our sin…
And yes, it is so, that I am a little worried about how this will come across when our children finally get all those pieces put together this Advent/Christmas season. Will they notice that Mary has three eyes or the sheep’s chin is off or any other number of anomalies in the finally completed picture which are likely to be there, too? Or will they be able to see beyond my meager attempt to share the story with them to the central truth of Jesus coming to us as a tiny baby out of great love for them and for all of us?
So no. I expect we will not ever get it completely right. But that cannot keep us from trying. Because the wonder of Christmas is that it is finally not about us, but about who God is and what God has done in coming to us as one of us. For us and for all the world, of course. However imperfectly we point to that, the promise is that Jesus will somehow make it enough. At least that is what I’m counting on again this year.
- May God’s Rich Blessings be Yours as You Seek to Share the Gifts of Christmas Once More!
- May your efforts to tell this story again be blessed by grace and promise and joy.
- And may you be blessed, in turn, as the story is told by you and to you and for you as well!