I found this little scene in one of those “Christmas all year” stores. It was on the back wall, almost hidden along with a tiny handful of dusty nativity sets. It was $34.95. Its origin was not marked, but it’s most surely of Chinese manufacture.

The store was a cavernous barn, two stories, chock full of the kind of things treasured by sentimental middle aged wastrel women. Elvis ornaments. Pink flamingo tree lights. Pillows embroidered with the kinds of cynical sayings which middle aged wastrel women find clever. Literally zillions of Santas and cutesy-countryish Christmas fetishes. Little wall hangings which said “Believe”. The junk outnumbered the religious artifacts five thousand to one. In fact, Wal-Mart and Target looked like the Sistine Chapel compared to this store.

So I was pleased to see this little donkey here; it’s the only one of its kind which I have found. I knew immediately that it was going to be a part of my home’s Christmas aroma. I was pleased that I wouldn’t have to bother with any cumbersome barn or grotto sets. Mostly, I was pleased at what the figurine seemed to represent.

Comfort and joy are scarce commodities. There are many counterfeits, and I have bought into them dearly over the course of my life. Invariably, whenever I do, I find myself pried loose from my leisures and thrust back into the life of the Spirit in much the same way it feels to be pushed into a frigid swimming hole unprepared.

It’s always a little shocking, always a little rude, and always exactly what I needed.

God always deals with his people in this way. Whenever something endangers them, he sends them packing out of harm’s way. Sometimes it is in haste, as in the Exodus. Sometimes it is a journey back into Egypt, as in Mary and Joseph’s flight.

The manger scene is only a kind of movie trailer for the real nativity. It looks calm and serene, and therefore it entrances even the casual nonbeliever. It’s a kind of teaser, a glimpse at what comfort and joy might look like.

But the reality is far more interesting. It looks like a whole life. The little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head for a few moments, but even as a babe, he soon had no real place to lay his head.

Dangers await. Dusty trails are ahead. It was his calling to travel even from infancy, and he makes his calling to be our own. Real rest will come only in fleeting moments; but comfort and joy–goodness and mercy–will follow us all the days of our life.


~ by mairnealach on December 13, 2006.

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