Maggie's Christmas Mircacle
Up until the time my sister Maggie destroyed the baby Jesus, Mom was the one who made sure we always went to church twice on Sundays, once on Wednesday night, and a whole week in the summer. Vacation Bible School they called it. Vacation my foot.
Daddy missed out on all this. The man had issues. I never knew what they were, and he didn’t seem to want to be asked. I didn’t fault him for it, though. Envied him.
The church on Fern Street was the best gathering place for the sad and angry that one could find. If anything appeared the least bit enjoyable it was a sin. It was almost as if the elders were trying to scare us and bore us at the same time. The longest prayers, the driest sermons and the worst singing in the history of mankind resonated in confines of that building.
Daddy would have nothing to do with it. He read his Bible and made sure we prayed before every meal, but he couldn’t abide church. Organized religion can draw the Spirit right out of a person. I heard him say something like that to Mom once.
Dads slant on church seemed magically transformed after the Christmas Party at Aunt Rae and Uncle Bill’s. Aunt Rae was Daddy’s sister so he was committed to show up. Daddy liked parties about as much as he liked going to church.
Things went well at Rae and Bill’s up until the time of the accident. Could’ve happened to anybody. My sister Maggie was trying to pull a throw pillow out of my hand at the same time I let go of it. I thought it a cool trick.
As luck would have it, Maggie’s momentum landed her against Aunt Rae’s cabinet… the one that had the ceramic nativity scene on it. A fragile display it was. Sheep, camels, shepherds… every object resting atop the thick cotton base went flying.
A few of the pieces had yet to reach the floor before Maggie started bawling. All the grownups ran over to console her. Aunt Rae told her it was a cheap display that she just got it out for the party. Nothing to worry about.
Mom was slow to arrive on the scene. She sat and stared at me for about 3 hours. Fire came out her eyes. Literally. Mom’s glares could cut particleboard. All I could do was shake my head and point at Maggie. Hey, she would’ve done the same to me.
Turned out, all the figures ended up relatively unscathed. Oh, a nick here, a scratch there, but not near what one would expect. Unfortunately, one of the wisemen did get decapitated. But, it was a clean break. A little glue and he would be the picture of health… except for some serious nerve damage.
Daddy soon had all the characters resting atop cotton. All except for the baby Jesus. The figure was no where to be found. Aunt Mae ordered everyone back into the living room, but Maggie wouldn’t stop looking. I don’t know what got into her. It was like she had lost the real baby Jesus. She looked in and under everything in the dining room.
Mom finally had to take her to the hallway for a talk. I tagged along for moral support. Hey, Maggie would’ve done it for me. Mom went on and on about how the doll wasn’t really Jesus and how it was silly to get so upset. Just a little ceramic doll, and she was treating it like an idol, and that if she didn’t quit crying she would give her something to cry about.
On the way home, Maggie was still whimpering. I even patted her on the arm a time or two, ‘cause she was beginning to scare me. Finally, Daddy said, “Maggie, did you ever stop to think that maybe you couldn’t find the baby Jesus because God took him to heaven?”
What a load of hoo ha! I had to hold back a laugh. But, my little sister swallowed it. Feathers and all. “Really, Daddy? You think I didn’t really lose the baby Jesus, that God took him to heaven?”
Daddy said, “Yes, I do, Maggie. I believe Jesus is in heaven.” Well, that changed everything. Maggie beamed, I snickered and Mom just shook her head.
I thought that would be the end of the whole baby Jesus story, but Maggie wouldn’t let it go. Kept telling anyone who’d listen about the miracle that happened at Aunt Rae and Uncle Bill’s. Mom told her that whatever she did she was not to mention it to anyone at church. Something about Jesus not being born on December 25th, and that people might get the wrong idea. Now it was Daddy’s time to shake his head.
On Christmas Eve something really weird happened. After supper Daddy told us all to get dressed up, that we were going to the Christmas candlelight service at the church downtown. I hated the idea, but Mom hated it worse.
Maggie was excited as all get out. “Really! What’s a candlelight service, Daddy?” Daddy told her he didn’t know, but that we were going find out.
That Christmas Eve I had the best church experience I’d ever had. And, it wasn’t even Sunday… or Wednesday night. We each got our own candle and got to light it in church. I didn’t think it possible. And then we sang some happy songs. Christmas carols even.
At one point, as we all stood holding our candles, I heard Mom whisper to Daddy, “Thank you, darling.”
After Christmas, our church life went back to normal. Change can be a hard thing. Eventually, though, the church on Fern Street split over a technicality. The whole concept was pretty fuzzy in scripture. The stuff of controversy for those in search of one.
By the time I started high school, Mom was taking us to the church downtown. And, over time, Daddy started going with us.
I don’t know what one is to gather from all this, if anything. But I do know that my sister sees God’s hand in it all.
Last July, as Maggie and I we were going through all the family stuff after Mom passed away, I opened the old box of Christmas ornaments. We had all personalized decorations over the years. Snug in one end of the box was a wadded paper towel. I pealed it back and saw a fractured ceramic baby Jesus. Daddy had apparently made a futile attempt to glue the swaddling clothes and torso together, but it was a mess. And the head was shattered and beyond the semblance of repair.
“What is it?” Maggie asked, noticing that I had been quiet for too long. I smiled and said, “Oh, just the clothespin reindeer that I made in, what, Christmas of ’73”? I gripped my hand around the wadded paper towel and returned it to its place in the box.
The discovery of the missing figurine did nothing in my mind to diminish the power of Maggie’s Christmas miracle. But, I thought it best to let her in on the finding another day. Like maybe this Christmas.
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