Things are crowded around here. Sure, we have a new baby and a guest and visitors, but it was this way long before our present situation. Most days it is all about crowd control. Someone can’t see the book or fit on the lap or needs to go potty and there is a line. For this mama it often just one touch too much. I need my space, room to breathe and the pushing and shoving and straining to be close is overwhelming in a way akin to a wave to a drowning man. These last few weeks especially when there was crowding from without and within, I felt myself unravelling.
Scripture tells us that Bethlehem at the time of Mary and Joseph’s arrival was crowded. Because of the census, people flocked back to the place of their ancestors. In a time before computers or telephones or even letters, there was no way for St. Joseph to call ahead and make reservations. They simply set out those 90 miles (90 miles! At the fullness of her pregnancy! Mother Mary was one tough cookie. . . ) trusting that they would be taken care of. I imagine the trip took longer than expected due to Mary’s state and Joseph’s concern for her. I can imagine his heart sinking with every group and family that passed them by. Did he do the mental math wondering where everyone would stay? Did he look down on his beloved and feel anxious but only show her a loving smile? We don’t know. But I am sure that after inquiring at inn after inn in that little Podunk town carved into the hill, his heart sank and he felt lacking as a man and husband. He probably resented the crowd and the humanity that pushed in and pushed them out.
We have two nativity sets. One Aunt Susie sent to me my first semester in college. It has a beautiful stable and a Fontanini angel, St. Joseph, Blessed Virgin Mary, cradle with removable Christ child and a single shepherd. It is beautifully sparse (because I have never made an effort to get more pieces) and takes pride of place in our Advent and Christmas decor. The second set is my favorite, though. It was a dollar store find and the simple plastic figures are small and delicate and reverent. This year we put it down where the kids could reach it. This resulted in lots of scattered pieces and sorry scenes. One morning as we cleaned I asked the kids to set up the pieces. Pretend Jesus is here, I said, and put everyone where they should be. The four, yes all four, set to work together quietly and seriously. When they had completed their task and received another, I glanced over to see their work. I found this:
I was struck with awe and the simplicity of it all and yet the message seemed to scream out at me. Here, these figures were exactly to the instructions I had given, “Put everyone where they should be,” not fanned out in a picturesque pastoral scene but crowded around the infant, pressing in close and vying to get as near as they could to God made Flesh. We are supposed to crowd in, supposed to yearn for the intimacy of the Savior. Without saying it, the kids know it and present it, not just in this simple action with simple figures but in the way they clamor for our attention and touch. This is where they first learn of His love and His care, after all. I should welcome this crowding the same the Holy Family welcomed the closeness of the stable, the visits of the Shepherds with their smells and sheep and of course the Magi.
So I will. I will be smothered and smooshed and let the baby be squeezed and petted as I crowd the Savior and ask Him to show me how to love it as he loves us. There is, after all, the space I crave in His beautiful heart.