A story about growing up.
| In December of my senior year of high school, the ceramic baby Jesus in my town's nativity scene was stolen. The worn white bundle of joy that had been the shining star of Christmas since 1972 went missing one night without a trace. No camera footage, no eye witnesses, and no damages. It almost seemed like he vanished into thin air. Most of us thought this was hilarious but the church certainly wasn't laughing.
Within hours of his kidnapping, representatives from St. John's appeared on the news, pleading for Jesus' safe return, as if his ceramic pieces might end up in the donations one Sunday. Loyal worshipers knocked on doors in every neighborhood and called each house twice asking for any bit of information. I even heard that the priest mentioned the stolen figure in his sermon the following Sunday at mass. To the outside world, it was just another case of holiday decoration theft, but to my town, it was a scandal as talked about as Watergate. The entire holiday season was steeped in gossip and speculation.
Articles were published through the town and the high school, both satirical and investigative. Every joke made was at Jesus' expense. Photo-shopped pictures of the baby around town were plastered onto social media, sending St. John's into an uproar. My boyfriend found it so amusing I wondered if he had done it himself. And at first I wouldn't have cared but as December trickled by, anxiety gnawed on my stomach. The biggest bite came when the bright yellow signs started appearing on telephone poles and in shop windows. "Have You Seen Him?", they said in giant block letters above a stock photo of Jesus Christ, heavenly light pouring from his palms. The church's attempt at saving the savior made me ill because suddenly it felt real. How do you save the thing that's supposed to save you?
Time went on. Christmas proved just as jolly, even if Mary's arms were hollow and the New Year arrived like it always does. The nativity scene came down with a reluctant whimper yet the anxiety burrowed deeper into my belly like a child's hands in snow. And there was plenty of that. The white stuff came down in drifts that only ever got taller. Bleak mornings and frigid nights passed ceaselessly and I felt stuck in a hole that I had never even dug. I sent out my applications like desperate prayers and hoped that they, and the sun, would come back stronger. I lived and thought of Jesus. His whole life was unknown from the barn to the cross yet he still managed to return without fear. I wasn't sure if I could do that.
Three arduous months passed and April arrived in a flutter of wings and rush of water. My acceptance came, real and solid in my hands, and just like the snow, my anxiety thawed. Frost hung in the air but I could feel opportunity shining through. Knew it would come soon. Summer bathed me in light and left quickly, but left the door open behind it. Soon enough I was in college, and I felt changed. A thousand years old yet only one second of my life complete. My fears fell away like sheets on Halloween pretending to be ghosts. But it wasn't until I returned home that I really understood.
The day after Thanksgiving, volunteers from St. John's erect the nativity scene, along with other premature Christmas decorations. In the car with my family, we drove past the town square and I peered into the makeshift barn. Instead of the empty hole in Mary's arms, or the familiar white bundle, there was a deep purple one. A new baby Jesus swaddled in finery. And in that moment, I felt resurrected. I felt like him.