“That prankster really gets around,” I thought as I spotted empty mangers in many nativity scenes around our new home, Laredo, Texas. Baby Jesus was missing. Had they forgotten about him? Had someone snatched him? Finally, I asked a local about the phenomenon.
“Well, he hasn’t arrived yet,” she said. “He comes on Christmas Eve. That’s when we place him in his manger — at midnight.”
At that time, I had lived only in Tennessee and Mississippi, where Protestantism prevailed, so I was unfamiliar with this lovely Catholic tradition. “How appropriate and how special!” I thought. I immediately embraced it, as I was usually awake at midnight anyway. Now, twenty-something years later (“post-Santa Claus”), sometimes it is a challenge to stay up, but I still find meaning in taking the baby from his hiding place and welcoming him into my world once again.
Walking in my neighborhood this morning, I did not see a single Baby Jesus or Mary or Joseph or stable or manger in anyone’s yard. Shopping at Michael’s yesterday, I was struck by the array of snowmen, Santas, reindeer, and even a host of angels on the shelves. Rows and rows of them in all shapes and sizes. But where was the baby? I looked up and down every row before curiosity forced me to ask an employee, “Do you have any nativity sets?”
“I think we have a few. I’ll show you.” There, on one end of one row, were some — how shall I say it — less than beautiful sets. None of them had a removable baby. I left the store feeling sad. Not much shelf space had been reserved for Baby Jesus and his family. There were too many other decorations crowding him out. It was almost as if the Christ child himself had been forgotten.
Last night I brought out the little stable, which once had more mossy stuff on top, along with Mary, Joseph, the sheep, the little manger, and the tiny baby. I placed it on top of the piano with the candles and the angel. Everything, that is, except the baby. I hid him behind the music rack.
Christmas Eve is shaping up to be a busy time this year at our house. We will have family; we will have food; we will have presents; we will have church services; we will have a lot to do. However, my plan is the same as always — Baby Jesus will be welcomed at midnight. I will take him from his hiding place and lay him in the manger. It will be a special, meaningful, worshipful moment.
I just hope I don’t forget about him.