As the twelve days of Christmas draw to a close it is time to take down the Christmas decorations. It is also time to dismantle the Nativity scenes, and store the figures away safely until next December.
In the year 2002, during my time as hospital chaplain in Minnesota, we duly stored the Nativity figures at the end of the Christmas season. But there was one figure we did not store away, and that was the Christ Child. He was not there. He had been taken from the manger by person or persons unknown sometime between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.
Hospitals have color codes for paging in different emergencies, like Code Blue, Code Grey, Code Orange, and so on. There is a Code Pink which is paged if a baby is missing from the nursery, and the hospital is put into total lock-down to prevent the baby being taken outside.
Unfortunately Code Pink was not put into operation for the missing Baby Jesus because the Nativity scene was outside of the hospital. Some staff people expected God to take action and let the perpetrators have a minor accident, or at least a flat tire or a breakdown leading to the return of the infant. But it was not to be.
I found consolation in remembering a parish gardener I had in my sprawling mission on the outskirts of Santiago, Chile. He had retired from working as a parks gardener for the city, and gave his service free for the little garden we had around our big concrete church.
He told me that when he planted flower gardens in public places in the city, he often returned the next day to find that all the flowers had been stolen during the night. I asked him how he dealt with that. He said he just planted more flowers. When they were stolen he just planted more.
I asked him why he kept planting more flowers, knowing they might be stolen. He said that he planted flowers to encourage people to create their own gardens. If some people took a short-cut, using the city flowers to create their garden, he felt his work was not wasted, though he would have preferred that they ask for the flowers, rather than take them secretly.
When I thought of the person who took the infant from the manger in our hospital Nativity scene, I wondered if it might be some distraught person who thought that this little symbol of peace to the world could somehow bring peace and comfort to his or her troubled heart.
I admired my old gardener’s attitude to his empty flower beds. It encouraged me to think that our empty manger was the price of bringing peace to someone’s heart or home, and I took comfort in the thought that the result was well worth the cost.