The neighbours would deck their houses with lights, more and more impressive each year. There was a Christmas tree in each window, with decorations and artificial snow, but her house stayed dark and undecorated. She was saving up for her nativity set. The neighbours offered their spare decorations, (in last year’s colours) to brighten up her house, but she politely smiled and refused. “That’s very kind”, she said, “but all I really want is my nativity set.”
Year by year, it was the same, until her nativity set achieved an almost mythical status to the neighbours. They never quite believed it would happen. In bored moments after lunch on Boxing Day they would speculate about it. “Lots of gold leaf and semi-precious stones” one of them would say. “No, no, something simple and wooden, from the Holy Land”, another would argue. “I know it’s not PC now, but how about an antique set made of ivory?” a third would suggest. They all agreed in being curious as to why this perfect set was taking so long to acquire.
Then one year, she invited all her neighbours into her tiny house. She served them sherry, slightly too sweet, and mince pies with squares of kitchen roll, as make-do serviettes. She couldn’t hide her suppressed excitement.
She made a short speech, thanking them for coming, when Christmas was such a busy time, and saying that today, her nativity set was finally complete. She opened wide the door to her living room, and ushered in her guests.
The furniture in the room had been cleared out, and in the middle, a beautiful figure of the Christ-child in his crib, carved in olive wood. But gathered around him, not what the neighbours had expected at all. Not a handful of carefully carved figures, matching beautifully, but a crowd scene of epic proportions.
There were dozens and dozens of figures – and not one of them matched another. Some were only a couple of inches tall, others were nearer to a couple of feet. Some were carved with great skill, others were battered and “well loved”. Some were wood, some knitted, some plastic, one or two metal ones and others it was impossible to tell. Some looked like rejects from a charity shop. A crowd of random animals pointed their assorted noses towards the crib – sheep and cattle, of course, but could that be a penguin or two at that back? Maybe even a dinosaur, among the oxen? And that shepherd on the edge, under his improvised robe, bore a suspicious similarity to Postman Pat.
Over it all, a glitter ball gently rotated, illuminated by a torch which was taped to the ceiling.
The neighbours were polite, of course, and said all the right things, but as they left it was a different matter. “The poor old dear has finally lost it”, they murmured to one another.
The woman was not as deaf as they thought she might be, and she smiled, as she heard their comments. She knew the nativity set was absolutely right. She had scoured the town over the years for the figures discarded by others, adding one or two to her collection each Christmas. She celebrated a Saviour who came for the misfits and the oddments, the battered by life and those “not really good enough”. As far as she could see, her set was perfect.
A Post Script explaining where this came from, and a simple prayer activity we used in church to go alongside it.