It was time for our children’s Christmas nativity pageant at church, celebrating the birth of Christ. As a little girl, I knew that some blessed, fortunate, and thoroughly envied girl’s doll would hold the distinct honor of being Baby Jesus. Of course, since it represented Christ, it needed to be the nicest, newest baby doll among my small group of friends, and for the past three years it had been Amy’s doll. Amy’s parents doted on her and she was gifted a new doll regularly so she had a wide selection from which to choose. It made perfect sense. However my mother happened to be pageant director for Sunday school this year. Mom being in charge of anything made me a bit uneasy, as she tended to do things her own way and one never knew what she might be inspired to do.
On a December Sunday morning a few weeks before Christmas she assigned the role of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and angels to various children, and then casually added, “Oh, and this year we will use Nancy’s doll as baby Jesus.” What?!! Nancy’s? Not Amy’s? Nancy was poor. Nancy’s doll didn’t have real hair, but only curly waves sculpted onto its pressed sawdust head. The cotton padding in its cloth body had long ago lost its fluff and now the arms and legs hung pathetically limp. We were poor too and my own doll was a hand-me-down, but at least its eyes opened and closed. Nancy’s doll had painted eyes that always stared out at life; it couldn’t even sleep! Didn’t we want this doll to sleep peacefully in the manger while the Virgin Mary, with a blue cotton bed sheet draped over her head and shoulders, gazed upon it fondly? Shouldn’t Joseph, with his father’s bathrobe gathered about his waist with a binding of twine, and a bath towel bound on his head, be proud of this child? Wasn’t there a law somewhere that Baby Jesus had be the prettiest of all? Was this blasphemy? Would God hand judgment down upon us all for demeaning his newborn son? Would Mom survive the scourge of damnation from hostile adults and appalled children? I held my breath as I awaited the threat of community scorn to descend upon our family. Word of Mom’s announcement quickly spread through the church. There was muttering and raised eyebrows, yet I also saw occasional nods of approval. As our family drove home, I anticipated Mom’s explanation which was sure to come. It rolled out of her mouth an hour later as she pulled a rack with steaming meatloaf and baked potatoes out of the oven. “Jesus blessed the poor. His entire life was about compassion and respect for everyone. He took special effort to reach out to the poor, the unwanted and the misunderstood. And he did so even in the face of public scorn. We need to remember that at Christmas”. That is all she said. It’s all she needed to say. I understood.
Nancy brought her doll to pageant practice that week, clothed in a cleanly washed and ironed, faded, cotton nightgown. She shyly presented it for the starring role. A week later at the Christmas Eve pageant, Nancy and I stood stood side by side in our angel costumes as she gazed fondly upon Baby Jesus. The radiant glow from her face lit the little stage, burning a powerful memory into my consciousness. I felt the love of Christ that night. And I like to think it rippled through the congregation. Mom’s thoughtful gesture bestowed the Gift of Compassion on us all and made me a believer.
May each of us extend the Gift of Compassion to others this holy season and on into the future. It is how we spread the Light.
Take life into your own hands and make it happen. It’s your life. Lead it.
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