Come to the Manger (maybe even dressed as a shepherd or angel)

Every year I look for the supernatural in Advent like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat. Say the right words, do the right activity and conjure up the true meaning of Christmas, and….dare I say?….a super spiritual status? I look for that hidden Narnia-like door into the Nativity. How is it that I let legalism steal in on my celebration?

When I was a child, Advent was simple. There were no internet resources dictating how to celebrate the incarnate God, how to explain to children the humble entrance of the King, how to shut-out the consumerism of our culture. There was only family, candles, and the Story. We didn’t even use pink and purple candles (I still don’t today). We had red and green candles atop the dining room / living room divider, sacred sentries keeping watch over dinner and television activities. Every year was the same. We lit a candle. We read part of the Christmas story. We acted it out. We acted it out again, enough times so each person could play each role. As children, we liked that predictability. It built anticipation. It encouraged participation.

I remember the pink wooden doll bed we used for a manger, and the green and white knit blanket we used for swaddling clothes – a blanket that had wrapped me warm as a baby.  I remember my dad in his maroon bathrobe as a shepherd. I remember singing We Three Kings as the “kings” marched down the hallway, my sister’s voice the loudest.

And I remember the Spirit illustrating His Story through us.

We were children, acting simple parts, and yet our worship at the manger was more than mere pretense. We may have been dressed as a young, frightened girl from Nazareth, or a rich wise sage, but the knees we bowed before the Christ-child were our own. In a mysterious way, we were shepherds, watching diligently over our daily activities of sports and homework, our lives interrupted by the Good News. And like those Bethlehem shepherds, we chose to journey and see, to leave behind the mundane for the profound.

So now it’s Advent again, and what do I want to do with my children? Light a candle. Read part of the Story. Enter in through action.

What do I gain from shouting into a darkened living room the words of the angel, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people”? Or by jealously sneering the words of King Herod, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

I gain perspective. I realize the parts of my own heart that have ulterior motives, like Herod. I gain glory. I wonder at the amazement of the shepherds as they hear first that the Savior of the world has made an obscure entrance. I gain commitment as I say, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” I gain faith as I receive the words, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Although my pre-schooler and toddler are far from stellar dramatists, they know how to pretend, to create story, to dress up. After all, Jesus called the children to come to him, and how better to come than entering into The Story, his coming.

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