What you see to the right is the last remnants of the Coffey family’s most cherished Christmas tradition—the Wandering Wise Man. Dropped earlier this afternoon by two very excited hands and onto the ceramic tile of the bathroom floor. May he rest in pieces.
In order for me to fully explain the enormity of this event, I need to tell you about before. About three Christmases ago, when we were unpacking lights and ornaments and garland. And, most importantly, our manger scene.
My daughter was the self-appointed Nativity Setter-Upper, and it was a task she approached with the utmost holiness and care. Animals were positioned first, then shepherds and angels, Mary and Joseph, and then Baby Jesus. The wise men came last. Three of them usually.
But that year, there were only two.
We rooted through boxes and overturned ottomans and scoured the dark places beneath the television stand. Nothing. Which meant Daddy had to climb back into the attic with a flashlight and a prayer. Both worked. I found him upside down and backwards in a corner guarded by a hairy-looking spider. Problem solved.
But then a thought occurred to me. One about how we all seek Christ but sometimes get turned around and lost, and how it’s important to keep looking anyway. I put the wise man in my pocket, walked downstairs, and said nothing.
A while later my son happened to walk down the hallway and see the wise man in the middle of the floor along with a note—Have you seen Baby Jesus? By the time he ran back into the living room to summon the rest of the family, it had moved again. This time to my daughter’s bedroom.
“Guess he fell out of the box when we put the Nativity back in the attic last year,” I said. “Now he’s gotta find Jesus before Christmas.”
Thus the Wandering Wise Man was born.
He has miraculously emerged every year since in the weeks before Christmas, moving daily—often more than once—from room to room in search of the Savior. It is as far as I can tell the best idea I’ve ever had. The kids are so engrossed in his progress that come Christmas morning they head to the Nativity first and the tree second, just to make sure he’s reached his destination.
Earlier tonight the wise man appeared by the sink in the bathroom, where he was found by my daughter. In her excitement to spread the news, she knocked the figure to the floor. He shattered into a hundred pieces.
She did, too.
I found her on the bathroom floor cupping as many shards as she could find into her hand.
“I broke the wise man,” she sobbed. “I ruined everything!”
I gathered her off the floor and passed her to my wife, who took her to the living room for some rocking chair therapy. I snuck away long enough to swipe another wise man from the Nativity, scribble a new note, and place both at her bedside.
She found them a while later. Christmas was saved.
I checked in on her a bit ago before heading off to bed. Beside the wise man was a note written in seven-year-old scribble:
Dear 2nd wiseman thank you for showing up. I’m so sorry for hurting your friend.
I smiled. Both at the words and the little girl who wrote them. Then I took a pen from my pocket, turned the note over, and wrote a reply:
Please don’t be upset. Everyone makes mistakes. We’ll always love you, the wise men.
I’m pretty sure that note won’t mend her broken heart, but it might be enough to get the needle and thread going. Sometimes that’s all you can hope for.
Because the lessons that count the most also tend to hurt the most. Lessons like the one my daughter learned today. No matter how careful we are, we still break stuff. And not just wise men. Hearts, promises, trust, and dreams, too.
No matter how hard we try, we still make a mess sometimes. We still shatter the sacred and the special, leaving nothing but the shards of what was once whole that we’re forced to pick up through our tears.
Thankfully, the One whom the wise men seek doesn’t believe in everything being ruined. He’s in the business of putting together and making new.
And like my daughter’s wise men, He’ll always love us.