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Most of us love nativities, always smiling as we notice Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus. Yes, we know the Wise Men didn’t show up for a couple of years, but we put them in anyway. And yes, we know Jesus was probably resting in a stone trough, not a wooden one “filled with hay,” but we love his “cradle,” too, and place it carefully amongst the shepherds and angels.
We even attend the many crèche festivals in some of our chapels, where hundreds of beautiful nativities from around the world are on display, sacred music being performed by groups of all denominations. And yes, confession: I caught myself coveting a couple of those nativity sets, right there in our chapel, which has to be some kind of double sin, I think.
Most of us have a nativity set on display in our homes this time of year. In a moment of Christmas irony, our children used to argue about who got to place Baby Jesus in the manger. This high honor created so much dissension that we finally had to print a chart on the storage box, delineating which child got which year. It made me wonder if they were even listening as we tried to create the right mood, and teach the right lesson about the Christ child.
Many of us also reenact the story from the book of Luke, with our children dressed in bathrobes for shepherds, and crooked halos for angels. President Eyring shared this tradition in the beautiful Christmas message from the First Presidency this year. Humor finds its way into his family as well, as he shared the story of his children throwing aluminum foil “rocks” at the one playing Samuel the Lamanite, and having to be reminded that Samuel couldn’t actually be hit by those rocks.
But something else happens in the homes of many children: Figures get added to the manger scene. When our kids were younger, they would sneak toys into the stable—tiny penguins, Lego people, little dinosaurs, Mario Brothers and Ninja Turtles.
When our son, Brandon, was five he loved to make things out of clay, and one day I noticed he had placed some little clay triangles by each figurine. The triangles had tiny loops, like handles. Mary had one, Joseph had one, everybody in the crèche had one. When I asked him about it, Brandon said, “After traveling so far I thought their clothes would be wrinkled, so I made them each an iron.” Indeed.
On closer inspection I also noticed a little two-inch Superman visiting the Christ child as well. And there it was, the perfect message for Christmas. Here was a super hero visiting the greatest super hero who ever lived. Maybe, just maybe, the kids were listening after all.