LIMA, Peru – Here, when I run, I cross myself.
It’s not the danger of getting more blood clots in my legs (although that will worry me for quite some time). It’s not the fear of getting hit by a car. It’s not the pollution. Rather, it’s the number of Jesus statues and Nativity scenes everywhere.
Fifteen days after Christmas, Christmas is going strong in Lima.
The Christmas lights are still strung all over this vast city, up and down palm trees, on light poles, on hotel fronts, on city signs, and, of course, around all the manger scenes – the thousands of manger scenes, most of them with flashing colored lights forming an unnatural border.
The truth is, there is no greater love here than the love for baby Jesus, and I saw that firsthand over the weekend at the National Children’s Hospital, where outside the children’s tuberculosis ward over the weekend the staff held their traditional (and sad) ceremony to take down the manger.
They called out for everyone on the ward to witness the scene. Children with TB who could walk came out. The staff and their children filed around. Doctors, nurses, and family members all gathered around.
Two things happened. One was that everyone was invited to take out one of the 300 figures in the manger scene (from tiny lambs to large cows to the very heavy statues of Mary and Joseph) and then to put a coin in a collection box.
The second was that the baby Jesus could not just be simply packed away.
No, baby Jesus would linger outside the cardboard box that held all the other figures. He was passed from nurse to nurse, child to child, doctor to doctor. The nurses, though, didn’t want to let him go. They cradled him in their arms like he was the baby Jesus, kissing him on the forehead, whispering words of prayer, squeezing him to their bosoms, some shedding tears, and ever so reluctantly and carefully passing the baby to another’s arms, and the whole loving baby Jesus started over again. I stood in awe.
I know this is a running blog. And I’ll write about the running in Lima in the next post. For now, the reverence for the meaning of the season, the birth of Jesus, is more than enough for me. I don’t think I’ll look at a manger scene the same ever again.