The Stolen Infant

Figures from a nativity creche, including an adult figure gazing at the infant Jesus

I like to think that after many years of living together, our family has developed a certain sense of equilibrium, a certain ease with each other. From time to time, of course, differences arise and sometimes, and, occasionally, an act of outright rebellion. But as the reigning benevolent despot of the King's Chapel parsonage at 63 Beacon St, I like to think that by and large we get on very well.

I don't pretend that all differences are resolved. For example, we have not yet come to complete agreement on just how warm a house should be. I grew up in a house without central heating and I have always felt that a cool house is a healthy house, impervious to colds and conducive to the flow of blood. My daughters do not share that sentiment and at times become articulate upon the point.

Last Christmas, when I refused to turn up the heat sufficiently high to raise a winter’s supply of orchids, our younger daughter declaimed, “Behold, a decree went out of Carl Augustus that all the world shall be frozen, and each went to her own room to be frozen.”

“Nonsense,” I returned. “You’re much better off here than if you were living in China or Russia.”

I don’t recall her precise response, but something in her tone of voice suggested that she was not convinced and my word was not final.

That Christmas Eve we held our traditional services of song and scripture, but I added a small new feature. On the old communion table we placed a crèche—​terra cotta figures of Mary, Joseph, and the child cradled in its mother's arms, shepherds, sheep, and kings as well. We had never had a crèche at King’s Chapel before, and I wasn't sure how people would take it. I hoped that the muted colors of these terra cotta figures might soften any Puritan objections.

We went through the family service at 4:30, Holy Communion at 6:00, and the big service at 10:30 p.m., and I heard nothing but words of appreciation. I was relieved and thought perhaps we’d started a new tradition. I had finished greeting the crowd after the late service when our verger approached me with a worried look and said, “I think you’d better come down to the chancel.”

“Why, what’s the matter, Tom?” I asked.

“One of the pieces of the crèche has been stolen."

“Which one?” I asked.

“The Christ Child,” he answered.

“Oh Lord,” I thought. “Here we put this out for the first time and...argh!”

As we walked down the aisle of the church I couldn’t help wondering who would take such a piece. A drunk? A nut? An objector? A prankster? We got to the chancel and looked at the crèche, and sure as shooting, the baby was gone. I looked under the table and around the chancel floor. Nothing. Then back to the crèche and I saw the edge of a tiny slip of paper protruding from beneath the figure of Mary. I drew the paper out and found the following message, printed neatly in pencil: “We’ve got Jesus. Turn up the heat at 63 Beacon Street and you can have Him back for the morning service.”

The heat went up at the parsonage, the infant reappeared, and everything returned to normal. Well, not quite. The benevolent despot of 63 Beacon Street sits less certainly upon his throne. That is probably not surprising.

No monarch, indeed no despot, can ever be sure of his rule when the child has been born.