Standing there in the light of the tree, I open it up. Little, my helper, leans forward, eager to see. I lift the protective covering, and there they are, the holy family nestled within.
One by one, I take them out and set them on the table. My little boy, named for an angel, reaches out a hand. He’s enthralled, captivated by the season and all its trappings. From trimming the tree to cutting out cookies to stringing the lights, he’s been a constant companion, a faithful shadow who refuses to miss a single thing.
Together, we arrange them in their spot by the tree. Three wisemen, bearing gifts. A shepherd, holding a lamb. A cow, a camel and another sheep. Joseph and Mary follow, carefully taking their places.
And then. With reverence, we lower Baby Jesus, the Christ Child, into His place before the assembled motley throng.
It’s a peaceful scene. Kneeling there, I feel it — a holy hush, expectant, pregnant with hope. With joy. With promise. With foreboding. For what it doesn’t show, this idyllic still life, is what was yet to come.
No hint of danger here where shepherds worshipped. No sign of darkness, of evil in the stable low. No thought of pursuit or murderous intent, not here where wisemen brought gifts and a star shone bright.
“Oh, do you know,” I nearly say it aloud, “that Egypt is coming? That Herod awaits, and one day, a cross? Do you know, strong father, young mother, what threatens your boy?”
In the quietness of my home, I can almost hear it. The clashing of swords, the howls of rage over the gentle sounds of animals, the rustle of the hay and the cry of an infant. How odd.
Odd, yes, and unexpected. For a story that began with an angel’s visit, a heavenly host and a brilliant star would not move next to Egypt, would it? What novelist would write a plot like that?
Egypt, land of ancient pharaohs, of pyramids. For a plain woodworker and his bride, just come up from the town of Nazareth, it was a foreign country, a place of strange customs, an unknown culture. Why would the story call for a stay in Egypt?