A decades-old nearly life-sized Nativity set needed to be repainted. I volunteered all the artsy people I knew to do it; I would help, too. I’m no artist, but I thought it would be like a humungous paint by number: not too difficult, it would just take some time.
My first job was to prep the figures before priming. Each Nativity character had to be scrubbed and then sanded. After all the prep, we would have one big paint day to get the fancy work done.
I lugged Mary first and then Joseph outside to the edge of the church parking lot, thanking God for their role in the Christmas story. Then came the shepherds, angels, and Baby Jesus. Wise men were taller; we semi-waltzed across the way. There was a camel, cow, donkey, and various sized sheep. I wrestled each one close to the ditch line so mess would be kept to a minimum. I paused throughout to send selfies with them to my sister.
I developed a routine: lug to the ditch, scrub and hose down. I hauled them back to the fellowship hall when they were dry.
The whole gang looked rough. After many years of exposure, paint had split and peeled. Joseph was in the worst shape of all. He resembled a leper more than a carpenter. It was obvious he’d seen his share of Christmases in the outdoors. Though scrubbing and sanding were important, they did not improve his appearance.
When Mary, Joseph, their friends and animals were clean and sanded, it was time for priming. Every Nativity figure was coated with white primer. A layer of paint makes everything look better. They could have been displayed right then and it would have been an improvement!
But they were not finished.
A crew of talented artists came on the appointed day to work their magic. We prayed before we started due to the importance of the job. I turned on Christmas music and everyone got to work. It wasn’t long before we began to see the transformation.
The Bible is chock full of stories of renewal. The Apostle Paul, who seemed so intense when I was younger, is now one of my faves. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” His story of change spans much of the New Testament.
In Revelation 21:5, John wrote, “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making all things new.’”
God is actually quite famous for transformation and renewal. If we let Him, He can take each of us, worn from sin and life, and wash us clean with the blood of Jesus. He smooths out the rough edges. (That can take some time.) Then He gives us a new purpose, a new mission.
When locals see the transformation of the Nativity, they will take note. When our lives are transformed by God’s Hand, it will be obvious to those around us.
Finally, two coats of polyurethane were added to preserve the work and protect through the next winters. It makes me think of being sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13).
When the figures were ready to go back to their owner, I noticed up close that there were tiny drops of polyurethane that had pooled and dried. It reminded me that we may look good from the road but are not perfect until we get to heaven.
Throughout the process, I have wondered which was my favorite: Mary with new dark hair, Joseph who had been in the worst shape, the tallest wise man or the one with the gray beard. No matter, it has been wonderful spending time with the Nativity.
Dawn Reed is a pastor's wife and newspaper columnist. Reach her at email@example.com.