Sometimes I wonder why we do it....all this decorating and hanging of lights. This year it was hard to get started with all the decorating and hanging of lights. Some Grandchildren eager to help decorate the tree made that a happy memory and a new tradition. That started the process that for me takes days to begin. There are over 100 nativities to unpack and arrange. Even with a few that stay out all year long, it takes daayyysss. But soon all the nativites were set up, the lights strung and my heart was ready to celebrate the birth of the Savior. And it was wonderful! How I love the Christmas season. Even when difficult things arise, Christmas reminds me of THE most important and wonderful event ever!
This year, though, it was truly an effort to put it all away. it wasn’t that I was sad to see the holiday be done (I've felt that before, too), but I just didn't want to go through the effort. For some reason I felt overwhelmed with doing it all by myself and found it difficult to find the motivation. I simply didn't want to do the work. Curling up on the sofa with a good book sounded right...not the ladder climbing, box carrying, wrapping and packing tasks that loomed before me.
Looking at the half empty boxes of tissue paper and bubble wrap strewn about the family room, I resolved to do it anyway, and discovered a change of heart and understanding in the process.
I began by gathering the nativities from around the four corners of the house (did I mention 100+? They are everywhere!). As I swept the surfaces of my bedroom, a painting caught my eye- "She Worketh Willingly With Her Hands" by Elspeth Young, a print I had chosen because it reminds me to do the 'work' of my life with a willing heart. I felt a little bit chastened as I realized my grudging packing away of a sacred celebration was quite far removed from willing. What had I just celebrated? ....an honored life and sacrifice made by my Savior, the Child born in Bethlehem. Of course.
And now I felt reluctant to put away the mementos of such a celebration?! Suddenly I recognized the gratitude I felt for such beautiful things to remind me of sacred events.
As I gathered a set of camels carrying wise men, I wondered how it would have been if those scriptural sages had not put forth the effort to make the journey to honor their King? My King? Was I making a true and honest effort to honor Him?
Next I found a well beloved (read: damaged) set of wooden figures. I thought about how I would need to repair some of the damage next year (this has become an annual ritual, the Nativity repair place). But as I held the wooden manger, I thought about how the Savior heals my damage. Suddenly the damage to these few pieces became sacred...He could heal me and I looked forward to healing the carefully carved figures in remembrance.
In the next room I found the open armed Mary from Peru, welcoming her visitors. I pondered if I was truly welcoming and open armed myself? Yet, as Mary, the Savior welcomes all with open arms and a caring heart. I carefully moved Mary to a permanent place where her loving arms could remind me of this all year long; that I want to have open arms and an open heart and not fear those who might hurt my feelings or act in ways with which I am unfamiliar.
As I carefully wrapped and packed lovingly handmade figures, many given to me by dear friends and family, I was gently reminded not to pack away their friendships or my love for them. My relationships with those I know and love is important to me, so while I carefully pack the mementos away, I want to remember to create more memories that give these mementos greater meaning next year. I want to find greater joy as I unpack next year and place the keepsakes out for a rejoicing celebration.
The last item to be packed each year is a large rustic manger lined with raffia hay. The manger is empty- the cloth 'baby' is packed with the nativity costumes. I considered the symbol of this empty manger, as I look forward to the Savior's return to earth again. Am I ready? What is the condition of my heart and how will I feel when He returns? These questions are part of the pondering path I have traveled in preparation for the coming new year. As I place the manger in the shed and close and lock the door, I remind myself that next year when I begin the preparation for Christmas, that empty manger will be the first thing I see. My heart is filled, my soul wants to do all I can to be ready to welcome Him...welcome Him always.
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the Kings depart.
Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
A humble and a contrite heart.
(God of Our Fathers, text by Rudyard Kipling, Hymns, 80)
Press on, enduring in the ways of Christ.
His love proclaim through days of mortal strife.
Thus saith our God: "Ye have eternal Life!"
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
(Press Forward, Saints, text by Marvin K. Gardner, Hymns, 81)