The small manger scene had been a gift from my mother-in-law when our oldest son was a toddler. The Italian molded resin and wood Nativity set held up well over years of handling by our three boys. I had wanted a creche they could touch and play with, using their imaginations to re-enact the story of Jesus’s birth. And imagine they did! In their minds, baby Jesus was not the divine Lord, but rather a mischievous little boy, just as they were. He rarely slept peacefully in the manger, but could often be found riding the donkey, petting the sheep, or up in the hayloft—a concerned Mary climbing the ladder to watch over him.
Now, forty-five years later, another little boy, our grandson, plays and imagines with the Holy Family. Like his father before him, he creates his own scenes in the stable. His current passion is the Saints—not the heavenly ones, but the very human ones who wear black and gold and sport fleur-de-lis on their helmets. In his most recent diorama, the Baby is prostrate in His manger, a shepherd and camel lying across His chest. Joseph, the fullback, is down in the hay behind him, apparently tackled by an errant reindeer. The right offensive tackle, an angel, blocks the donkey, a cow, and a sheep while a troubadour cheers on the sideline. On Jesus’s left, Mary continues to protect his blind side, blocking a king bearing gifts and a camel. Another camel, the center, stands in front of the manger, shocked that Mary has been unable to save her Son from being sacked—prophesy from the mind of a five year-old, perhaps.
We don’t know much of Christ’s life between his infancy in Bethlehem and his coming-of-age experience in the temple when He was twelve. I’d like to think He had a childhood as my children and grandchild imagined it—a very human savior who understands when His followers stumble, fall, and struggle to rise again. Because He empirically knows the challenge of being imperfect, His acceptance of us as we are is that much more divine.