Twins Angela and David were proud to be considered old enough to walk the short distance home all by themselves. To be sure, it wasn’t a long walk and Mum was always watching at the lounge window for their safe return. The pencil-straight road they lived in meant that she could see them in the distance as soon as they turned the corner on the final leg of the journey. She also had learned to allow a little leeway because she knew they enjoyed the distractions of the shop windows.
In a few days the school would break up for the Christmas holidays and the seasonal displays offered by the now festive-ready shops were an attraction they could not resist.
One shop habitually had in any case always grabbed full attention. Its untidy fullness made it a favourite stop, being one of those stores that seemed to sell everything and anything, even to the extent that it appeared unable to contain its full array of commercial offerings.
Many items spilled out onto the pavement, the smaller on tables and the larger on the ground, crowding around the table legs as though seeking protection and security. There were cheap toys, buckets, bundles of wood for starting the fire, screwdrivers, Christmas decorations, hammers, framed pictures, children’s books, baskets of soap bars, skipping ropes, saucepans, paperback novels, almost anything you could think of seemed to find its way into and out of this particular shop.
The twins laughed at their own powers of imagination as they thought of the merchandise being imprisoned and trying to escape from the packed jungle of the shop! And to peer through the always open door revealed a crammed interior of even more extravagance. A true Aladdin’s cave for those seeking to acquire the really important and useful things in life.
Now, on this particular afternoon , as they stopped to look into the shop, there it was, right in the centre of a laden table, struggling for attention amongst an over-crowded pile of diverse items, so much so that David’s usually keen eye had missed it on his first hurried scan of the interior. They just had to go in and take a closer look, and now stood in awe before the most intriguingly delightful nativity set, with all the figures in place, arranged around the baby in a manger.
Just yesterday at school they had both been captivated by the school nativity play, a venture that David was disappointed at not being asked to play a part in, especially as his sister had been! But here was a replica that could be owned, with pieces that could be moved, arranged and re-arranged at whim. How wonderful it would be to have their very own Christmas story!
Christmas morning eventually arrived after what seemed a never- ending wait. Like all children, they had awakened ridiculously early and basked in the wonder of wrapped presents and crammed stockings. So many new things! David had washed and dressed first, with greater speed and much less care than usual, then fairly galloped down the stairs laden with his new treasures. As he reached the bottom step, he suddenly stopped and froze, for there it was on the hallway table. The very nativity set that once sat squashed amidst the multitudinous crowd of imprisoned goods for sale! Not only had it escaped but had chosen their house to run to !
Much later that day, in the subdued light of the Christmas tree illuminations, Dad walked passed the hall table on his way to the kitchen and noticed four amorphous lumps of plasticine residing incongruously amongst the figures of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the shepherds, three wise men and a cluster of animals. Inwardly he felt disappointed that the scene that had been so carefully arranged was now spoiled with unfortunate clutter. He called the twins and in a harsher-than-usual voice enquired as to the reason for this blatantly inappropriate adaptation to a lovely scene.
David, whose idea it was, felt firstly confused , then ashamed, as he observed the stern face of his father, his lower lip trembling a little and tears just gently forming in the corner of his eyes. Angela broke the difficult silence and in a submissive, emotional, quiet, yet clear voice said ;
“But it’s us Dad”, and then pointing to each lump in turn added “ there’s me, David, you and Mum. We are there too! We are inside the story! It’s our story as well“.
A deep silence descended during which Dad slowly discerned that the intruding plasticine lumps did seem to have the resemblance of crudely made figures. It was now his turn to feel uncomfortable. After a deep silence he reached down and gave both twins a long hug. Now, with just the semblance of moisture in his eyes, and a slightly quaking voice he said “Thank you for being so thoughtful. Yes, it is our story, we really are there too! ” And the nativity set remained, just as it was, until New Year when all the Christmas decorations were taken down and carefully packed away.
Thereafter each Christmastide, even long after the children had flown the nest, the scene was displayed with the crude plasticine figures standing unashamedly alongside the Holy Family, Shepherds, animals and Wise Men. And each and every Christmas Mum and Dad pondered the wonder of the great truth that even imperfect, misshapen, unrefined and incomplete lives are no bar to being inside the greatest story of all, the ‘Grand Miracle’ as C S Lewis called it, when God became human in order that humanity be lifted into the realm of the Divine.
And they once more embraced the truth that playful imagination of young and uncluttered minds can reach depths of understanding that are otherwise masked by convention and perceived ‘tidiness’. After all, had not Jesus said that unless one becomes like a small child, it is really hard to enter into the full truth of the Kingdom of God?