Twenty-two years ago, Randy and I volunteered ourselves and our very cranky, colicky, two-month-old baby Sydney to act as Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus at Red Mountain Community Church’s “Christmas Alive.”
This is the only photo I have of that miraculous night. It was miraculous because our baby actually slept peacefully in the manger. No crying or fussing, as was her way. As children laid toys and pretend money in the straw beneath “Jesus,” Sydney was fast asleep, oblivious to the Bethlehem night unfolding around her.
When families approached and realized we were real people, and Jesus was a real baby, their countenance would change. For many, emotion would sweep over them, and tears would trickle down contemplative faces as they beheld the scene before them.
I remember the sunset that night. The warmth of the day sank in the west; cold, brisk air descended into the grassy basin. The sky filled with jewel-tone hues that saturated the sky and then faded slowly, giving way to a deep indigo, spotted with twinkling stars.
The village was full of visitors, and there were shops to visit, Roman soldiers on horseback, and livestock milling about. The air was full of the smells and sounds of the first Christmas, which, by the way, also took place in the desert.
Although historically we know the wise men not pay their respects to Jesus until many days later, in this Arizona reenactment they would be arriving at the barn soon, and visitors really enjoyed that spectacle. We hoped Sydney would not break “peaceful-baby-Jesus” character, and enjoy their visit too.
I remember looking up at, watching for the kings, and taking in the faces of the visitors, when I noticed one small face in particular.
“Anthony?” I said aloud, and realizing that I had just broke character, thought quickly about how I might recover from the blunder. But it was too late. Young Anthony stood there in amazement, marveling that Mary, the mother of the savior, had just muttered his name.
“I’m really glad to see you tonight,” I said, because that was the truth, and I thought both Dyana and Mary would likely say something welcoming like that.
I knew Anthony because, that summer, I had also volunteered as a helper during vacation Bible school. I waddled around pregnant with a group of about six kids, ages six to ten-ish, from activity to activity for a week. Some kids were there because they wanted to be. Some kids were just dropped off. My feeling was that Anthony fell into the second camp. He was hesitant to enjoy the week, but I kept at it, involving him in discussions, helping him with his crafts. Truth be told, I am always attracted to the outcast kid in a group; the kid who acts out, or is shy, or looks uncomfortable in their own skin.
By week’s end, I saw a little change in Anthony, and I was praying he understood the beauty of God’s grace and love for him.
And on this night, he was standing in front of me, not just dropped off, but with his family. Who, by now, were also getting emotional that Mary knew their son.
Antony approached baby Jesus and laid his pretend Bethlehem coins at Jesus’ manger. And now I was tearing up. This moment, this tangible connection with a historical event, this appreciation of God among us, this joy and expression of love; this was Christmas.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Isaiah 9:6 NIV
Wishing you peace, hope, and love this Christmas season, and a childlike faith to believe.