I took the lid off the belt box that my grandmother used to store her nativity set. The scents of Nannie’s house still live in the box. Every year when I open it, I wonder if it will be the year that her house is replaced by our own house smells. With every movement of the tissues, a gentleness from my grandmother and all of the memories of her and her home rose up to my olfactory sensors.
A melancholy washed over me. I found myself tearful, though not fully crying, while I dug in the old papers to find each piece. The globe on my buffet served as the imaginary cave-turned-stable. In my mind, I carried on a conversation.
The first order of discussion was to acknowledge that the wise men were out of place, technically speaking. Historical documents place the arrival of the magi from the East nearer to the two-year old Jesus. I don’t have a ceramic rendition of toddler Jesus.
I positioned the three kings alongside the shepherd and his sheep, because, I reasoned, isn’t that like God to mix the wise and learned with what society and culture labels ordinary and outcast? My makeshift stable-place was getting crowded. All of the dirty animals and the unclean shepherds and the robed wise guys would have to lay aside any concerns about class distinctions.
Yes, I know that the baby Jesus nestled in the ceramic straw doesn’t make his entrance until December 25. Oh wait. I mean, later in the story, Jesus is born. But I placed him there anyway, right under the globe, an offering maybe. Or a prayer.
These placements mean something, I said. To myself, of course, and inside my mind. And I prayed for the world as I turned the globe so that Africa and Asia faced me. It’s all so fragile and full and broken and rich and tired and sad and frightening, I thought.
But, I went on, it’s Advent. This week carries Hope. I choose hope, I said. I choose the reality of the womb of a singular woman carrying the hope of the world. It’s ridiculous, I sighed. Joseph’s hand belongs on Mary’s shoulder, and I nudged him as close to her as possible to let him be a part of the mystery.
I imagined my grandmother’s hands handling the same pieces of the nativity. I imagined something holy being held together in the box and under the globe, something holy held together within me. In hope, I prayed out from Palestine and around the world.
Come, Lord Jesus.