Baby Jesus found a new home this year.

Since the proliferation of the little people we’ve drawn names for Godly Gifts on Thanksgiving. Each Pearson reaches into the basket while still sitting around the table, swallowing that last perfect bite of turkey, dressing, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, rice and gravy, ham, and dinner roll (it’s a big bite). They anticipate this tradition more than basketball fans do the draft.

So, that’s Thursday. When Friday rolls around we shop for our Christmas tree. Before we moved, we went to the same farm where the little people rode the same horse-drawn carriage, petted the same rabbits, and made the same requests for a teacup pig (and mind you, heard our annual “No”). Then, Hubby and I debated over how tall the tree should be, haggled with the same farmer, placed the tree in the same corner of the family room, and let the branches fall for twenty-hours before hanging the same collection of ornaments on it.

Here in our new digs, we’ve done our best to cling to these routines. The Saturday following Thanksgiving, still full from turkey and ham, we dragged out all our boxes of garland, lights, and Dr. Seuss-inspired floofloovers, tartookas, whohoopers, and dardookas. As usual, Brown Sugar and TD wrestled over the finale—who’d climb on Hubby’s shoulders to top off the tree with the angel and the star—while we draped greenery, tested batteries, and hung wreaths. We sang Christmas music and planned our schedule of animated Christmas specials while Crusader, Hubby, and I peeked at the games on TV.

But even before we did all that—before we strung one fickly blinking light, looped any twenty-four-year-old garland from our wedding, or baked one oatmeal lace cookie—we arranged our Nativity.

Which brings us back to Baby Jesus.

In our old house, we tucked the ceramic Babe behind a topiary on the mantel until Christmas Eve. Then one of the little people placed Him between Mary and Joseph to signify His birth. But you see, we don’t have a mantel now—at least, not one that’s mounted. That rather sizable piece of solid wood is currently propped up against a wall. Not only that, the packers crushed the legs of a papier-mâché camel, and the Magi astride it lost his face. Also, we now have fewer windows to hold our candles and fewer stairs to climb, which leads to less garland draped around the rails. Lower ceilings mean a shorter tree and less room for our myriad doodads. No porch and no porch light equal no spot to hang our Star of David which the movers dismantled when they packed it. Our precious fixer upper has a bigger yard and enough space to live, homeschool, and work…but where will Baby Jesus lay His head?

Aah…a centuries-old question.

Our answer, ostensibly, is inside the drawer of our chest in the foyer where the Nativity awaits. Yet boys and girls in Sunday school classes everywhere would shout, “In our heart!” Yes, our hiding place simply satisfies the little people who annually wrangle over who gets to set out Baby Jesus in eighteen days, one of the many traditions that bind us. I nearly had a cow when I realized I’d missed “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” (Why CBS aired it before we’d finished Thanksgiving leftovers is beyond me. You’d best believe I didn’t miss shouting, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!”) Surely, we love to celebrate Jesus’ birth, life, resurrection, and imminent return during this season. We read an Advent story, sing carols from November to January, go to church, and buy every battery from here to New Jersey to honor the Light that shines more brightly than any plastic Star of David. Yet, traditions like these don’t necessarily flow from the heart but from a habit. Maintaining them becomes second nature; what we do without thought or intention. But second isn’t first, is it? And worshiping God should be anything but routine. It’s first and last. Always. Intentional.

That means we can sing Christmas carols all year long—right?—since we’re no longer waiting, looking, and hoping for Him. He ever abides in each of us—constantly, not seasonally or annually; ours is more than a holiday observance. These holiday routines are only an infinitesimal part of our worship, the daily laying down of our life in order to pick up His. Our “Joy to the World” is an everlasting gift, not merely how we feel at the end of a candlelight service. His presence is a sweet-smelling aroma of Life we inhale and exhale even when burnt gingerbread wafts through the house and peppermint candles overpower the nasal passages. We know that sipping a cup or ten of eggnog and eating turkey-and-cranberry sauce sandwiches on this side of heaven pale in comparison to our future feasting with Jesus. We prepare Him room in our hearts every day by making room in our lives for those He sends our way, folks searching for a listening ear, a soothing word, or a slice of warm lemon curd pound cake.

So, let’s get in the spirit and change up some things this year. Remember to feed the poor in spirit in March just as you fed those in need at Christmastime. Study the prophecy of Revelation after reading the good news in Luke. Constantly share what happened on Good Friday instead of what you bought on Black Friday. Be a light in the darkness long after your cinnamon-scented candles melt. Let peace rest, rule, and abide in your hearts in every season.

And take Baby Jesus out of the drawer before Christmas morning, just like TD did. After a brief, bloodless tussle with Brown Sugar, of course.

Some traditions only Jesus can change.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

 

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