Hanging outdoor Christmas lights has become a holiday tradition at the Sanders’ house. The day after Thanksgiving, I send my boys up into the attic to dust off and haul down box after box of Christmas lights and dŽcor. The older girls get the hot chocolate brewing, and my younger daughters wait with excitement as each box is opened and the contents are revealed. Their hope is to get the first peek of the lighted baby Jesus, complete with Joseph, Mary, an angel, a shepherd, a few sheep, a donkey and three wise men. A homemade stable I constructed with my sons becomes home for the nativity characters until New Year’s Day.

As my wife prepares the inside of the house for phase two of installation, the rest of us tackle untangling cords and assembling props. The whole ordeal has brought more than a few laughs over the years. These are the memories we live for as parents. The experience is sweetened as the sun begins to set and the lights begin to appear. Watching my 4-year-old admire the baby in the manager leaves no doubt that the journey to the attic will be made once again next year.

Can you imagine being present at the scene of the first nativity? Take yourself there as you feel a cold draft move across the stable. Can you smell the freshly tossed hay as you gaze into the clear starry night? As you bed down for the night, the rustling of other house guests reminds you that you are not alone, and your rent is shared by four-legged friends. The night air is crisp, and a particular star is especially bright. No problem. The day’s journey is starting to take its toll. You will soon be out like a light.

Just as your eyes begin to fade, you awake from a stupor. A young man and a pregnant woman suddenly make themselves at home in your little abode. As if this weren’t alarming enough, in a matter of minutes, a baby boy is born in living color before your very eyes. Before long, a whole slew of star chasers start showing up to admire who they refer to as the newborn King. And if that wasn’t attention-getting enough, what will the neighbors have to say about this angelic choir that keeps cranking out the hits? Not your average night in Bethlehem.

If you had been manger-side that night, who would you have wanted to be? The shepherd? An angel? One of the wise men? How about the stable owner? Imagine the marketing potential for future tenants when you advertised who stayed the night at your place. The Lincoln bedroom at the White House would be nothing compared to having housed the Savior of the world.

Those all sound great, but you know who I would want to have been? I’d want to have been one of the animals. Why? Because they had the privilege of staying all night and adoring the new-born King!

No, my little decorated nativity is not the real thing. A lighted nativity is definitely a modern phenomenon. Nonetheless, it is a simple reminder that on a star-lit night in a small dusty village, the world was forever changed by a baby boy who would bring salvation to all who would accept Him as their Savior. He was a true gift from God on that first Christmas day. He may have been born “away in a manger” and died hanging on a cross, but He lives within me today, making every Christmas unforgettable.