In the nine years since Charles died, our family has created some new traditions - like the grands and I spending a couple of Christmas days at Opryland Hotel. We've also kept some old ones like driving around to look at Christmas lights and paying homage to a special Nativity scene in downtown Franklin. Over the years, they've graduated from Santa pajamas and hot chocolated sippy cups to Starbucks and Ug boots, but little else has changed.
Except last year, we were taken aback as the three of us parked on a side street sorta late one night, and reverently approached our favorite Nativity. Suddenly I frowned and froze, and I could feel both granddaughters do the same. We looked at the scene. All the animals were there, the Angel, the wise men, the shepherds, and Mary and Joseph. But the manger was empty. Where was Baby Jesus? We looked around. Who on earth would steal Jesus?! Finally I said, "I don't know what happened but do you think we should go find a baby for the manger?"
Their relief was palpable and they answered in unison. Yes! We piled back in the car, headed toward a shopping center and drove around until we found a CVS with late hours. Once inside, we picked out the best baby we could find. He was cute, but not swaddled, so we added the swaddliest blanket there, paid for our purchases, and drove back to the church. We gently placed the baby in the manger, tucked him in, said our good nights, breathed a sigh of relief, and headed home.
It wasn't until a few days later that a friend suggested to me that the missing baby was probably not a kidnapping but a deliberate design to wait until Christmas Eve to fill the manger. Oh duh! Of course! I did wonder what the good church folks thought when they discovered the premature birth. And I maybe felt a little dumb. But I wouldn't change - for all the Magi wisdom in the world - the reaction of those two kids when they thought something was wrong...and their need to set it right.
We made our pilgrimage again last night to our Nativity. The manger was empty. We all started laughing and one said, "Remember how worried we were last year?" But you know, regardless of our worries, real or imagined, Jesus was always going to be born right on time. So Happy Birthday Jesus - and Merry, Merry Christmas.