Empty mangers, crippled lambs….

A few days ago I stopped at a little antique shop along Hwy 231 in Cottondale, Florida, that I enjoy browsing from time to time. It is owned by Deborah Bush, a Cherokee Indian woman about my age. We enjoy chatting and laughing about memories of things from our youth every time I stop by.

This trip I was complimenting a nativity set on her counter. She told me about one that she has at home that is missing its baby Jesus piece. She said she’d hunted everywhere for a replacement Jesus for her nativity, but every one she found was either the wrong size, wrong color, or wrong style for her set. She was about to despair of ever finding an appropriate replacement and considered just putting it away when she heard a song about someone with a similar dilemma- a nativity missing its Jesus. The singer told of being asked about the absent Savior and of his response. He sang of the Savior having once been a baby, but having grown up to wear a crown and robe and even having saved the life of the singer. In the song, a person’s inquiry about the absent Jesus had become an opportunity for the singer to share his testimony. She said it gave her an altogether different perspective on her own Jesus-less nativity set. She, too, now uses it as an opportunity to share with guests in her home about the grown up Jesus who saved her, too.

After her story, I shared with her a similar experience I’d had after inheriting a nativity set when my mother in law died. In her nativity set, one of the sheep had a broken leg. When I inherited it, I began a search for a replacment sheep. I searched several stores and on line looking for an appropriate replacement sheep. Finally, as Christmas drew near, I had decided I’d just wrap the sheep up and put it back in the box rather than have it propped oddly with its missing leg against the manger.

I’d made it a practice for several years to purchase a new Christmas story book each year. That year a book by Max Lucado caught my eye- The Crippled Lamb. I purchased it, took it home, and read it immediately. It was such a tender story about a crippled lamb who could offer nothing to the newborn Savior but his warmth, worship, and adoration. It left me in tears and I realized that the little sheep with the broken leg was a lesson for me. Every character in the nativity, flawed or seemingly perfect, serves its purpose, just as each one of us, flawed or seemingly perfect, serves our purpose in God’s drama today.

Deborah and I marveled over the lessons that God teaches us through the simplest experiences and how wonderfully redemptive He is in taking what appears to be a sorrow and making it an opportunity for celebration. This Christmas I am earnestly seeking Christ’s redemptive work in some circumstances in my life. I have also learned, and am reminded by a dear friend of mine, that God’s timing is perfect. What I may be looking for in the next few weeks or days may take months or years to happen. One thing is sure, however, God is in control. He has a plan. And, as I have sung many times the words of Babbie Mason’s song….. when I can’t trace His hand, I trust His heart.

P.S. In a related newstory reported on Dec. 23rd, the city of Bal Harbour, FL has put GPS systems in its nativity Jesus, Mary and Joseph and placed a plexiglass shield in front of the display to deter theft.