Chewing on Christmas: A Toddler's First Encounters with Baby Jesus
Turns out the rumor is true. Christmastime really does get more fun when children are involved.
Our 13-month-old son, TJ, was a newborn at this time last year, and aware of very little. So this Holiday season has been the dawn of a few new family traditions for us Kleehammers. One of my favorites so far is the Little People Nativity set we put on the floor in our non-functional fireplace.
For Advent, we’ve just had the animals in there with the shepherd watching over his sheep in the nearby field. TJ became very familiar with this scene as it became one of the frequented stops on his daily path of destruction through our house. Every morning, the nativity is neatly waiting for him; every evening, we experience a small miracle as we are somehow able locate all of the pieces and put them back in their spots.
The rest of the Nativity characters have been patiently on standby, waiting for their cues. Since yesterday was Christmas Eve, we introduced a few more of them as Mary and Joseph showed up with their donkey and cart full of food and supplies. TJ noticed. He was especially into the donkey's cart, because it has wheels. Total boy, you know.
We got home really late last night from celebrating Christmas Eve with relatives. As tired as I was, though, I still took a moment to put baby Jesus in the center of the stable, and the Angel on the roof. I flipped the little switch on the back of the stable so that when the Angel gets pressed, the star lights up, and the song Away in a Manger plays.
I took a moment to sit, and take in the scene of my son's simple little toys, contemplating the profound realities they represent, and how we are laying the foundation to really teach him about these realities someday.
TJ ran into the living room this morning, Christmas morning, and went right to his nativity set. But he didn't notice the new Baby Jesus right away, or even the Angel on the roof. Instead, he went for the hay trough where the camel had already been feeding for four plus weeks. It's one of his favorite pieces in the set. As usual, he enjoyed taking the hay out of the box, putting it back in, taking it out, putting it back in, rinse, repeat... Until finally, he noticed the new baby at the center of the manger. He picked Him up, looked at Him, and then proceeded to put little Baby Jesus right in his mouth. This is, of course, the one-year-old equivalent of deep contemplation.
In watching my little boy interact with the Christmas story for the very first time (and of course being that mom with the cell phone taking way too many pictures) I realized that the way we tend to respond to the reality of Christmas doesn’t necessarily change that much as we mature. We can still spend a lot of time not getting the bigger picture, majoring on the minors, taking stuff out of boxes, putting them backing in, taking them out, putting them in, rinse, repeat... But hopefully, like TJ, we eventually do notice the baby in the manger. He really is the whole point. He's why there's hay in the trough for the camel who's been waiting all this time for Jesus to show up, and make the whole story mean something.
Away in a Manger has been playing over and over again in our living room all morning, although the Angel is taking a nap in the field while Joseph stands on the roof playing DJ. Later this evening, the three magi will begin their journey from the opposite side of the house to the fireplace. TJ will find them in a different spot every morning, closer and closer to the fireplace until he finally finds them at the stable when he wakes up on Epiphany. Hopefully each evening during these 12 days of Christmas, we’ll be able to find where the magi have ended up in the wake of Hurricane TJ. By the Grace of God, all three of them just might survive their journey to Jesus.
Sometimes, like the shepherds, Jesus just shows up right where we are. Sometimes, like the magi, we have to follow the lights to find Him, bearing witness to His majesty along the way. But in either experience, the point is that the infinite God who never existed because He is existence itself took on human flesh and stepped into the picture as a new born baby, humble and vulnerable, on a mission of Love for the whole human race. The unfathomable Creator has made Himself knowable, and lowered Himself to such an extreme that we ourselves have to fall to our knees to really see Him.
Not that boxes of stuff aren’t cool and all. By all means, enjoy those, too. But I hope that all of our details ultimately lead us to this mysterious baby in the manger who changed everything forever. And like TJ, I hope that over the next 12 days, we'll really take the time to chew on Him.