The angel in our nativity scene – I call her Joy – falls down a lot. She can’t seem to stay put, no matter how often I wrestle her four-inch-tall frame back onto the tiny nail sticking out of our stable’s plywood roof.
Joy only has one job, to stand guard over the stable, wings illuminated by my historically inaccurate twinkly lights, gracefully holding a banner proclaiming “Gloria!” And since she only works about five weeks out of the year, it seems like she could handle it. After all, its not like she was asked to give birth sans an epidural after riding a donkey all day.
Sometimes she lands in the stable hay, sometimes she knocks over a gawking towns-person, and once, she appeared to be suffocating a completely innocent sheep. The unfortunate sheep already struggles to maintain his balance, as one of his hoofs was gnawed off by a toddler years ago, so he doesn’t need any sneak attacks by the angel.
The only reason the angel falling is any huge bother is because of a glitch of stable construction that making the nail nearly impossible to remove and reinsert. Thus, I have to wriggle the nail head through a teeny, tiny attachment on Joy’s itsy, bitsy upper back, a task that would be better done by fairies than human fingers. I turn into a scold while doing this, lecturing Joy on the basics of Nativity Scene Acting 101 and cursing my failing eyesight. It isn’t a peace-on-earth, goodwill-to-all moment, if you know what I mean.
Once I get Joy back where she belongs, I’m exhausted. But just as I settle onto the couch to contemplate the meaning of life and how many treadmill hours are required to burn off sugar cookies, I’ll hear a small breath of sound, like a sparrow landing on my rosemary bush, and I know Joy has plunged downward again. I find her sprawled face down, one of her wings stabbing a Wise Man in the shin. It’s inordinately frustrating.
Maybe this is how God feels about us. He sets us somewhere, gives us a small job, then goes to get a cup of coffee or some M & M’s or, if it’s been a really bad day, maybe a glass of wine. When he returns, we’re on the floor or under a cabinet or trying to sneak out the front door.
We want desperately to stay where he put us, holding our little “Gloria” banner aloft, doing whatever work we’ve been assigned. But then the twinkly lights of our own lives start hurting our eyes, or the pine boughs itch our head, or something fancy or fun calls from Over There and the next thing you know, we’re distracted and plunging downward. In retrospect, we can see exactly what we did wrong, we can name our sin, we can repent and beg forgiveness. We promise to stay focused and Get. The. Job. Done.
Of course, just as I always find Joy – sometimes on my hands and knees, searching among the detritus that tends to pile up near our nativity table – God finds us. We may not like that he does, we may not even be willing to recognize that he does, but the next day, when we’re back in our life, it’s hard to deny: God’s put us back on our perch and nudged us in the right direction.
Now, if only we can stay there. After all, someone needs help the angels point the way to the light in the stable. Might as well be us.