Picture Perfect Christmas

I was looking at a crib early this evening. Placed at a table in a corner, the nativity scene was beautifully presented with the small figures of Joseph and Mary looking at the baby Jesus lying in a tiny manger.  An assortment of tiny animal figurines were scattered giving the crib a certain rustic charm that was accentuated by the faux grass and the wooden frames.

Purists would likely be appalled to see the shepherds and the three wise men jostling for space in the crib. The gospel accounts mention that the shepherds and the wise men met the baby Jesus separately - and for all account, it could have been after a gap of a year or so. Whatever be the case, having both of them in the same scene may not match the gospel narrative to the dot but it does make the crib picture-perfect though.

Almost like a picture in a family photo album. The kind of picture we enjoy taking during Christmas -- of everyone together, of everyone smiling happily as if that moment will last forever, of everyone trying to fit in anyone who was there who made the year special.

In a way a crib captures just this very sentiment the same way a group picture does for most of us.... a crib tries to tell the Christmas story in a nutshell with all the main actors around and makes for a good centerpiece or decoration. A picture on the other hand - at least a good one - ends up being framed and stays on the wall or a table for a long time to come.

Those pictures remind us of good times and of Christmases that were special and meaningful. We look at them and don't just see the faces but also that moment - of all the drama of fitting everyone in that single frame and adjusting and jostling to ensure everyone is there. We smile at the memory because it captures so much of our idea of what a perfect Christmas ought to be.

Christmas is very much a family thing because each year that we celebrate we do so with people who are close to us - parents, siblings, spouses, grandparents, uncles and aunts as well as dear friends who are as close as family.  Yes, we celebrate our Saviour's birth but we also do so with people we love and who make our lives special. The crib tells us what the Christmas story was all about, and the family pictures remind us of the love shared and made stronger with time.

In a way, both are images of love. The crib touches upon the thought that 'God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...' and then when we see the family pictures we are reminded of the love that extends between family members and friends.  Both give us a sense of gratitude and a sense of calm because love does that. It gives us a sense of gravity knowing we are loved and that there are people in our lives who matter, and whose presence makes all the difference to what we are.

And if there are people in the pictures who are no longer with us, there is a certain poignancy that we can't fully explain. We are sad, yes, because they are absent in our lives today but we are also grateful that they lived their lives, gave us their love and are now on a different journey, celebrating Christmas with their Savior.

But for those of us who are left behind, the pictures are reminders of what love was, how it felt to be loved unconditionally, and how to use that love to reach out to others. Christmas provides a clue to those who may feel a bit shaken... the answers to our grief may not always be in black and white but as long as our eyes are on the Babe in the manger whose name is Immanuel - or God with us - we will know that we don't have to struggle on our own. The struggle need not be a lonely journey into the unknown but a walk with a God who said, never will I leave you or forsake you.


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