My home has three extra visitors this Christmas. Our three foster babies are precious, tiny, stair steps. They bring so much joy and liveliness to our already loud and joyful home. We absolutely adore them. They are busy, busy, busy just as you’d expect an infant, toddler, and preschooler to be.
I imagine this is why there’s also an empty Fisher Price nativity sitting on top of a child-sized table in my kitchen. I haven’t a clue what’s become of the round, plastic, Little People versions of Mary, Joseph, or Baby Jesus. They were all present and accounted for when I placed them in the plastic nativity scene mid-November. It appears they’ve traveled on a new journey. This time, instead of an excursion to Bethlehem, I think they’ve journeyed behind pieces of furniture or inside closets where I’ll eventually find them one day.
On the day that the Holy family resurfaces, I expect that I’ll miss the tiny little hands that carried around the plastic version of Baby Jesus or packed up the shepherds in the back of their dump trucks. I can imagine the bittersweet feelings I’ll have when the whole manger scene is back together again because this season of our family’s life is going to be remembered for the achingly beautiful, exhausting, hard, and holy moments.
I have to reframe my thoughts again and again to remind myself why the nativity scene is empty. To be brutally honest, it doesn’t really feel like I have my life together when I see the plastic nativity frame sitting on its side without a single shepherd or camel. It feels like I’m making quite a mess out of things, in fact. Until, I remember why the nativity is empty.
The plastic Mary and Joseph have been carried by tiny hands who enjoy the just-right size of the Little People figurines. And isn’t that really kind of the point? I remember that I purchased that nativity set for my boys when they were tiny because I wanted them to become familiar with Jesus. I’ve gifted that same nativity set to multiple small children in our circle of family and friends because I wanted them to become familiar with Jesus. I placed that plastic nativity set out on the child sized table this very November because I wanted the three little ones visiting our home to become familiar with Jesus. Why own toys if not to be used and carried about? How silly of me to feel like a failure when the plastic Holy family has become temporarily displaced, but I’ve come face to face with a harsher reality this past year.
The truth of the matter is this: We, certainly I, lose sight of the big picture on a very frequent basis. We forget that this world is not our home. We forget to live with eternal things in mind. I’m thankful for the ways that fostering these three babies have reminded me again and again: things are just things. They serve purposes and they don’t have to last forever. Stuff can get lost and broken. It has served its purpose. The only things that last are the eternal things.
The only things that will matter on this side of Heaven are loving God and loving others. So for this Christmas, I’m going to be especially thankful for the missing nativity pieces because they’ve been carried by little hands. I’m going to be especially thankful for the wooden nativity pieces, broken from falling too many times on the hardwood leaving donkeys and shepherds without wooden heads, because they served their finite purpose. They were in the hands of toddlers as those little hearts learned about Jesus.
The nativity pieces don’t have to last forever. Our children’s books about the birth of Jesus can become torn. If they have pointed tiny hearts toward a familiarity to Jesus, the toys and books have served their purposes.
May our hearts be focused on the only thing that truly lasts this Christmas. May our hearts be focused on the true gift of Jesus and when we’re in proximity to other humans, very tiny or much older, may we remember to prioritize loving Immanuel and loving the people He came to save.
From my heart to yours,