Before I was married, I decided to make a ceramic Nativity scene that I hoped my future family would treasure. I spent many hours working on the figures, and I envisioned unpacking the set with my children, telling them why I chose the royal blues and purples for the Wise Men and the earthy yellows and browns for the shepherds. I was sure the set would be the focal point of our holidays in future years and would indicate to my children that our Christmas celebrations would be centered around the Christ child.
After I was married and had children, each year at Christmastime we would tenderly unpack the set and put the figures in a special place where they could preside over our holiday festivities. It was just as I had envisioned the scene many years before.
One year as I was packing away the figures, I looked at the ugly box that had held them for many years. I decided I needed a new one. I found just the box, and I wrapped each figure and put the box in the basement.
But I didn’t realize that the box was not sturdy. The following year, as I was carrying it from the basement to the living room, the bottom fell out and all the figures crashed to the floor. I quickly knelt to survey the damage. To my dismay, the figures had broken into many pieces. I couldn’t believe it! How could this happen? I knew it had been my fault for not choosing a better box, but it just didn’t seem fair. Like the figures, my heart was broken. I couldn’t bear to throw away all the pieces, so I laid them in the bottom of the box and packed them away.
Christmas seasons came and went, and no one mentioned the Nativity scene. It was too painful for me to discuss. My older children could remember the beautiful set, but my younger children were not even aware of its existence.
Then, some years ago, a dear friend visited me from out of town. In our conversation I happened to tell her about my broken Nativity scene. She wanted to see it, but I refused, telling her that even after all these years it would be too difficult for me to see all those broken pieces again.
She persisted, and I reluctantly unpacked the figures. We laid them out on the kitchen table. I looked at the pieces hopelessly. My friend looked up at me and said, “I think we can fix these!”
I was skeptical, but we got out glue, paint, and filler and started to work. As I saw the Nativity scene being re-created right in front of my eyes, my pain turned to joy and delight. My friend and I worked into the night, laughing and visiting.
Every Christmas since then, I have brought out the set. It is true that one of the Wise Men is still missing part of a hand, the donkey is missing an ear, and the paint doesn’t match exactly. But to me, that doesn’t matter.
I can tell my children why I chose royal blues and purples for the Wise Men and earthy browns and yellows for the shepherds. I can tell them about the joy that came with making the set many years ago. But there is more. I can tell them about a kind friend who was willing to help me patch the figures and patch the pain in my heart, and about how she turned that pain to gladness. I can tell them how our happiness can be shattered by trouble and sin. But I can also tell them that the Savior can mend our lives as we link our efforts with His grace.
When I gather with my family at Christmas, we can reflect together on how pain can be turned to joy, on how that which is broken can be made whole through the atoning sacrifice of our Lord who was born in that manger. That is why the shepherds and Wise Men came to honor the Son of God. That is why the angels sang and heaven and earth rejoiced. Indeed, that is the essence of what Christmas is all about.