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The Nativity Story

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Which Figure Are You?

By Linda Gilden
Guest Writer"Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has told us about." Luke 2:15 (NIV)

“Mom, come here,” 10-year-old Ginger yelled. “Jeff did it again.”

I headed back up the stairs to see what was going on. My three children were gathered around the manger scene on top of the piano.

“Look,” Kristi said pointing to Baby Jesus, “he can’t even see out.”

“Yeah, and the donkey is way back here. Tell Jeff to stop moving all the people around.”

Five-year-old Jeff was standing in front of the stable looking very pleased with his work.

“Jeff,” I said, “have you been moving people around?”

“Uh-huh, they’re singing. See, Jesus likes to hear all the people sing.”

“What are they singing?” I asked.

“Oh, Mom,” the girls said in unison.

“Just a minute, girls, let Jeff tell us.”

“They’re singing ‘Oh, how I love Jesus.” Jeff smiled.

This was not the first time our manger scene had been rearranged. All three of our children had spent time “arranging” the people. Today, they happened to be singing. Sometimes they lined up to give Jesus their gifts. Other times they were far away, just beginning their journeys.

“Jeff, why don’t we move the people back a little. Let’s all help.”

I picked up the camel and the camel driver. “See this fellow,” I began. “His name is Obadiah. He has only had this camel for a year. That’s not long. Usually people keep their camels for many years. This is the camel’s first long journey.

“You see how loaded his back pack is? He is bringing gifts to Jesus too. He also carries supplies for Obadiah. When Obadiah gets tired, he has to camp and rest.”

Kristi picked up the boy carrying his bagpipes. “What about this man? What’s his name?”

“That’s Thaddeus,” I said. “He’s bringing a gift to Jesus too. Can you guess what his gift is?”

“Bagpipes?” offered Ginger.

“Something in his bag?”

“Thaddeus is bringing the gift of music,” I said. “He has practiced and practiced so he can play a song for Baby Jesus and Mary and Joseph.”

Jeff picked up a man holding a sheep in his arms. “Is this man going to give Jesus a sheep?”

“Yes, he probably is,” I said. “In those days, a sheep was a very fine gift. It meant the family could have wool for clothes and food. Sheep also were sacrificed to God. They were very important animals.”

We continued returning the figures to their positions.

My mother had started this tradition in our family when we were children. Mama shared stories about the baby Jesus. She told us about each figure and why they looked as they did.  The people came alive as the stories of the hardships they had endured to make their way to the manger unfolded. If one person was not smiling, they too had a reason for their lack of joy. Each piece of Mama’s manger scene was housed in its original box marked with a detailed description.

My own manger scene is a collection Mama began for me almost forty years ago. Mama gave me the stable and the Holy Family for my birthday and the rest of the pieces were purchased individually. If you pick up the figures and look on the bottom, Mama recorded the date I received that figure which tells me if it was a Christmas, birthday, or some other occasion gift.

My figures, like Mama’s, often find themselves standing in a different spot each year.

Ginger picked up another figure. “This lady has a basket full of eggs. Wouldn’t it be hard for her to carry them all that way?”

“Yes, it probably was hard not to break any eggs. But this lady raises chickens. If she has extra eggs, sometimes she trades the eggs for other things she needs.”

“What kind of things?”

“If she doesn’t have a cow, she may trade eggs for milk. Or she could trade it for flour and other staples. These eggs were all she had to bring to Jesus.”

“That’s cool,” said Jeff. “Maybe I could trade some of my stuff for things.”

Growing up my favorite figure was the one that lived in the box marked “man with headache.” He carries a small lunch basket. Clutching his hat, he holds his right hand to his stomach. He holds his head with his left hand.

“See this man,” I said picking up my favorite manger man, “he has a headache.”


“Well, I don’t know for sure. But he worked very hard in the few days before his journey. His wife and three small children are left behind. Along the way, the man hasn’t slept very well. This is his first long journey away from his family and he misses them. His children are very young so “man with headache” had to find a friend to oversee his flock while he is gone. Despite the difficulties of the trip (which gave him a headache), the anticipation of seeing Jesus makes it all worthwhile.

We don’t really know how many “figures” traveled to the manger. We know that communication and distance kept many visitors from getting there until Jesus had grown a bit. But we know that many rejoiced at Jesus’ birth and wanted to meet God’s only Son as soon as possible.

Today, I can identify with some of those figures. Sometimes my arms are full, like the lady with the basket of eggs. Sometimes I am pulling a heavy load like the camel driver. Sometimes my efforts to get to the Savior are sidetracked like the young boy chasing the sheep. And, sometimes I have a headache. But each day, if I could pick which figure to “be,” it would be the young man right in front of the manger. I would take off my “hat,” bow my head and kneel before Him, eager for just a glimpse of His glory.   

Won’t you join me there?

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Linda Gilden is an award-winning freelance writer living in South Carolina. She is the author of the Love Notes series by New Hope Publishers. She frequently teaches at Christian writers conferences and enjoys helping new writers discover the joy of writing. To learn more, visit

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