Like many Christian families, we always put up a nativity scene. Ours was a substantial Fontanini display with elegant figures, a moss-covered shed with angels hanging off of it and a manger for the baby Jesus. We were married in late November and it was a wedding gift from one of our pastor relatives (we never did figure out which one, we had 8 total and it was left at the reception in a huge box without a card).
After our son was born, we moved the nativity from its traditional location on the mantle to the round oak coffee table so he could enjoy it. He pulled up on the table and then stabilized himself with his chubby hands to look at the nativity his first Christmas. The next year he was walking and he used the table to cruise all around the nativity. He’d lean against the table to support himself, and then move the animals and shepherds around, giggling with delight.
By year four he was in an excellent preschool program at a nearby Methodist church. I was pleased to hear that the children had seen the life-size nativity scene in the sanctuary. The pastor had even joined them to tell the story of the birth of Jesus. My husband and I complimented each other on finding such an outstanding pre-school program as we set up the Fontanini on the coffee table that year.
After dinner the next day, when we sat down on the nearby couch to read to our son, we noticed that the baby was missing. (The Baby Jesus that is, ours was sitting in his Daddy’s lap.) “Oh honey,” I said, noticing it first. “You forgot to unpack the baby Jesus.” Our son looked up at him with those huge eyes little kids always seem to have and said, “The baby not there Daddy.” So he promptly handed our son off to me and went to the basement to fetch the baby from the box. He returned a few minutes later, empty handed. “It’s not there, did you drop it under the table?” The three of us got down on our hands and knees and looked around under the table. All we found was a spider and a hairball our cat had puked up. Our son shook his head and said, “The baby not there Daddy.”
The search for the baby Jesus continued for almost a week without success. We finally decided that he must have fallen on the floor the previous Christmas and been inadvertently tossed in the trash with the giftwrap and boxes. So my husband said he would go to the over-priced lady’s gift shop (the only Fontanini dealer in town) and buy us another one that afternoon.
After we took our son to preschool the next day, we sat down to drink coffee and I said, “Are you going to get a new baby for the crèche, honey?” And he replied, “Oh, I did, it’s in the manger.” I looked at the crèche, looked at him. “No, honey, it’s not.” Baffled, he blinked his eyes and said, “Well, I put there last night when I got home, where is it?” Confused too, I said, “How should I know? I didn’t even know you had another one!” Like synchronized swimmers, the two of us fell to our knees to look under the table again. No spider, another hairball, no baby Jesus.
When I served our son a snack on the coffee table after preschool, I told him that our new baby Jesus had gone missing. He looked at the crèche, looked at me, shook his head and said very seriously, “Baby not there yet Mommy.” Later that evening we were again reading to him after dinner and his Dad mentioned that he had purchased a replacement baby at the store and that he was now missing, too. Our son shook his head again and said, “Baby not there yet Daddy.”
Privately, we both blamed our big black and white cat, Mr. Kitty, who was notorious for batting things off tables and stealing them, for the baby’s disappearance. As Christmas drew near, we did a room-to-room search for the missing child. He was still MIA when we left for the Christmas eve worship service.
When we got home, we told our son it was time to go to bed. He shook his head and ran to the other room. (This was a fairly common occurrence when he was asked to go to bed, so we didn’t think much of it.) But what happened next was far from common and bordered on the miraculous, as befits the Christmas season.
“Close your eyes everybody!” he ordered from the next room. We complied, smiling those knowing parental smiles as we heard the sound of his pony-like run on the hardwood. “Be nots afraid!” he yelled with his hands behind his back as we opened our eyes. “The babys is born for you in Beth-la-hams.” And then, he thrust his arms up into the air and said, “Rejoice!” Much to our amazement, in each chubby fist, he held a Fontanini baby Jesus. He grinned, squished them both into the manger, pointed a fat finger at his Daddy and said, “Now the baby born, Daddy! Everybodys rejoice!”