Christmas Program Day at the preschool where I work is among my very favorite days of the entire year! To see kiddos aged 20 months – five years singing on stage is adorable, cute, and hysterical all at the same time! I love to see their little personalities completely bloom on stage.

Our Pre-K classes act out the Christmas Story, almost like a Charlie-Brown-Pageant-kind-of-thing. We have Mary, Joseph, a donkey, an innkeeper, angels, shepherds, wise men, a star of Bethlehem, and of course, a baby doll for Jesus. In years’ past, we’ve used a pink, plastic toy crib that we draped with a brown cloth to be the manger for baby Jesus.

This year, more than any other year in the past, my heart has been so heavy surrounding the Christmas season, and specifically, the materialism of Christmas. I have been saying over and over, “We’ve come so far from the manger”. While shopping off wish lists, or putting together wish lists, I just kept thinking that this is just not what God had in mind. My heart has been so heavy over this fact, that many of my friends and family may be shocked to not see a Christmas card from us this year.

Now, I need to be clear…I am not saying there is anything wrong with buying gifts, sending Christmas cards, making wish lists, etc. In fact, I find joy in sending cards and giving gifts, this was just a PERSONAL feeling in this particular season for me. Will I feel this way again next year? Who knows? I only know that I had to, needed to, simplify this season for me personally. As a family, we only put our most favorite/meaningful ornaments on our tree. More than half of our Christmas decor didn’t even leave their storage totes. This was my way of getting myself “closer to the manger”. And you know what? This Christmas season and fellowships, have gone on just as they have before in years’ past with ALL the Christmas decor hauled out! This has been a freeing awakening for me…just getting “back to the manger”.

So, with this frame of mind, an idea popped into my head about asking one of our preschooler’s grandfather, who is so handy and works with wood, to make a manger for our Christmas Program. I just couldn’t put baby Jesus doll in a plastic, pink crib.

Boy, did “Big E”, as we affectionally call him, ever come through. It was beautiful! There was so much love and time put into it, that I literally have tears welling up now just thinking about it.

When Big E brought the manger to the preschool, he told me about the process of building the manger, and how on some parts of it, he used the oldest wood he could find, 75-year-old wood, to make it as authentic as possible. He explained the hours of measuring, cutting, sanding, constructing to make it just perfect, and also the perfect height for a preschooler.

Oh boy, did the analogies ever go swirling through my mind! It burned a message in my heart that I just had to share on program day! Here’s the thing about that though…I can literally talk for hours about Jesus. That fact, plus preschoolers that can’t sit for hours, meant that I had to stick to a script. So, I wrote out what I wanted to say, in an effort to keep it short and simple.

Do you want to know what happened when sharing a meaningful message to a sanctuary filled with people while holding a piece of paper meant? It meant that the paper I was holding shook more than a leaf in the fall wind. This wasn’t my first rodeo speaking to people! It took me back to my very first time in front of a group of kindergarteners, when I had my first observation, while in the beginning stages of student teaching. A sweet, precious boy raised his hand and asked, “Mrs. Van Laar, why is that paper you are holding shaking so much?” That was a big case of nerves, but this time, it wasn’t nerves, it was a message that resonated with me in such a big way, that I literally shook like a leaf while sharing it. I had to fight back tears that would’ve just turned into a big ol’, ugly cry as I shared about this amazing gift that God gave, a gift for which I am so underserving.

I would much rather share the adorable preschoolers around the manger, but for privacy reasons, this picture will have to do.  🙂

Here’s the thing, Big E taking the time to make room for Jesus in a physical manner, spoke to me in a spiritual manner. You see, for the time he spent making sure there was a place for Jesus during our program, made me ponder on the importance of me making room for Jesus in each day, each decision, each moment.

This manger will be a blessing to our preschool for all who come behind this group, just as when we make room for Jesus, it blesses those around us. Why? Because once a person becomes a disciple of Jesus, they love as Jesus does. They give of themselves, they share the joy, hope, comfort, and peace that passes all understanding that Jesus provides. And then? Those that they share with will hopefully, one day too, come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. As we fall short, Jesus is the bridge to cover that gap. Jesus was sent by our loving God to give us atonement, cleansing, forgiveness of our sins, as Jesus is the one whom took the punishment for my sins, and for your sins.

God sent His son, this amazing gift, to all, and it’s there for the receiving. If you have yet to make room in your heart, in your life for Jesus, if you have yet to accept him, may I encourage you to not wait one moment more? It will truly be the best, life-changing decision that you’ll ever make!

And that’s what Christmas is all about–making room for Jesus.