It’s December and the Christmas decorating has begun in our house. We’ll have many of the usual decorations inside and outside – lights on bushes, stockings hung on our chimney with care, and Christmas trees with store bought and handmade ornaments reminding us of loved ones and Christmases over the years. If you celebrate Christmas, what are your favorite decorations?
We’ve also created a ritual of sorts out of the decorating. The first Saturday of December we’ll pull the decorations down from the attic, buy some of our favorite pastries from the local coffee shop, and turn up the Christmas music. Those of you who are serious about being the Advent police, should probably stop reading now.
One of the types of decorations I treasure the most these days are the nativity sets we have acquired.
Over the years, Ami and I have collected them from places where we’ve traveled. We have them from Belize, Germany, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and even a couple that were made by friends. One of which is a collection of beautifully painted stones and includes a Little Drummer Boy. These crèche scenes remind us not only of our travels together but of the ways in which the biblical Christmas story differs in look and interpretation around the world. In our house at least, gone are the all-white characters I grew up with.
Ami was recently shopping at a fundraiser yard sale when she stumbled upon a nativity. Intrigued by it, she turned it over and noticed it was made in Mexico. Normally, we would want to buy it in the country where it was made when traveling there, but the box it was in grabbed her attention. It was sold in a store in Martin, Tennessee. So, she bought it and brought it home.
I was a bit puzzled as she took it out of the box and told me about finding it. Then she showed me the bottom of the box. Martin, Tennessee. This nativity belonged to a couple who were mentors to me at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Larry was an administrator who taught a popular religion class my senior year, Religion in America. Betsy, Larry’s spouse, became a friend who eventually moved to Covington in 2019 to be closer to their daughter, Molly. Larry died in 2008, and Betsy died of complications due to COVID in 2020.
Betsy and Larry loved Christmas. In addition to giving the most thoughtful Christmas card each year, they had collected lots of Christmas treasures. More than the family could keep, so they decided to part with some at this sale, which benefited the Covington First United Methodist Church Food Pantry.
While I’m glad our money went to the Food Pantry, which I offer to you as a worthwhile charity to consider with your money and time, I’m certain I received the greatest gift in this endeavor.
To have a new nativity representing more diversity in the biblical characters is a gift. To be able to tell the story of where this nativity comes from and the people who cared for it over the years is a gift. To know that two of my mentors and friends live on in our house in that nativity is a gift.
Here’s the thing and the greater gift, though. Larry and Betsy poured themselves into mentoring and befriending thousands of students like me over the years.
The good of what they poured into me lives on in a variety of ways. Larry wrote a newspaper column for decades that inspired my interest in doing the same. He also broadened my knowledge and appreciation for religious diversity, which I put into practice daily as a college chaplain. Betsy taught me how important traditions are. She also taught me to put a priority on truth telling in all things.
In this season leading up to Christmas, a time when Christians embrace how God is made real among us because God came to be with us, I think about the gifts of people like Betsy and Larry. They continue to help me strive to be a decent human being who passes along the gifts of friendship and mentorship to others. These are Christmas gifts to treasure.
What gifts will you treasure this Christmas?
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University and lives in Oxford, Georgia, with his spouse and 10-year-old. His new book published by the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate Press is “The Sacred Year: A Contemplative Journey Through the Liturgical Year.”