“Where can it have gone?” The Reverend Polly Hewitt tugged a hand through her wild blonde curls in a worried gesture. “Has it been put away by some overzealous cleaner, do you think?”
Lay Reader Cheryl Patterson grimaced. “Shouldn’t think so. Nobody would tidy it away before Christmas Eve.”
“What are we going to do then? Olive Tree will be so upset. She bought that crib set on pilgrimage in the Holy Land sixty years ago and has been lending it to the church every Christmas since. Being made from olive wood, it feels personal to her. And she’s so vehemently opposed to keeping the church open all the time. This will really fuel her fire.”
“Let’s look round before we leap to hasty conclusions.” Cheryl flicked her bright red hair behind her shoulders as she heaved her ample bulk from the pew. “It may have been moved by someone with a weird sense of humour. Why would anyone nick a crib set? I could understand it if baby Jesus went missing, or one of the animals; might be tempting for little fingers. But the whole set? Who would take that?”
“Don’t know.” Polly’s shoulders slumped. How could you celebrate Christmas without a crib set? Olive’s set with its plain wooden figures could never be replaced. Besides, how was she going to break the news to Olive? Now 86, the former ward sister at the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital had never lost her reputation as a formidable dragon.
Please God, Polly prayed, help us to find it before the Midnight service tonight.
But although she and Cheryl searched every inch of the church, there was no sign of the crib set.
Despondently, Polly made her way back to the rectory. It wasn’t just the loss of a few wooden figures. By stealing the crib set, someone was hitting against the very meaning of Christmas, the loving gift of God to his people.
The phone rang some hours later, just when Polly was summoning up the courage to face Miss Tree. There was no mistaking the bark on the other end of the phone.
“Polly? I want to see you in church. I’ll be there in half an hour, at three o’clock. All right?”
“Yes, Miss Tree. All right.”
Come on God. I need your help here. So will Olive.
Reluctantly, Polly approached the south aisle altar, where Olive Tree was waiting with folded arms and a grim expression.
“Do you know who’s responsible for this?”
“Miss Tree – Olive – I’m so sorry. This is unforgivable, and at Christmas too.”
“Unforgivable? Rubbish! It’s a delight to my old eyes, now I don’t see so well. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. I want to thank whoever did it.”
“What?” Polly raised startled eyes to the altar. There was the crib set, but no longer plain. It shone. Every tiny figure had been meticulously painted and varnished. The result was a riot of glorious colour.
Thank you, God, Polly whispered.