by Eric Clayton

I had waited far too long. Advent was turning into Christmas. This was my last chance, and I could only find one souvenir shop still open. It was Sunday, and there was only one nativity set left that fit into my post-graduate volunteer budget.

All these weeks I walked the streets of Santa Cruz, peering in shops. I told myself I wanted a Bolivian nativity scene. I promised myself I’d buy one. And every shop seemed to have the same one, more or less. 

And now, with a set in one hand and a fist full of Bolivianos in the other, I made a grave discovery:

“Where’s the llama?”

The charm of this particular nativity set – of all the sets I’d seen in Santa Cruz – was the distinct Bolivian-ness of the scene: The three wise men had swapped their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the charango, zampoña and quena – traditional Bolivian instruments. Joseph and Mary were garbed in Bolivian clothing, the colors bright and vibrant. 

And there was – there was supposed to be – a llama, an animal that was decidedly not present at the birth of Christ but definitely present among the people of Bolivia. 

The man behind the counter looked at the set, looked at me, a smile playing at his mouth. Maybe even a twinkle in his eye. “You have to have a llama,” he said, producing one from a shelf hidden beneath the counter. My set was complete.

As I pulled these pieces from their box in the basement this past weekend, putting them on display alongside our Christmas decorations, I thought back to that moment nearly eight years ago. 

You have to have a llama.

The last several months have hardened us, cut us off from one another, turned us inward. We’ve seen the same handful of faces day in and day out. And many of us may be quite content to keep our walls up, our doors closed, our communities separate. 

And yet, as we prepare for the birth of Jesus, as we await Christ’s coming anew into our lives at Christmas, we cannot be comfortable with the status quo. We can’t turn inward and allows walls – both literal and figurative – to separate us from one another. 

God comes to all people. Christ is born for each and every one of us. The scene isn’t a pristine image of calm and quiet – it’s the great cacophony of God’s people, all invited, all given a seat at the table. 

Even those we perhaps would prefer to ignore. 

You have to have the llama.