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Baby Jesus fills void in Elgin Nativity scene following theft

This Baby Jesus statue was found Hendershott family's outdoor Nativity scene ElgChristmas Eve after another one went missing after Thanksgiving.

This Baby Jesus statue was found in the Hendershott family's outdoor Nativity scene in Elgin on Christmas Eve after another one went missing after Thanksgiving. 12/26/12 | Emily McFarlan Miller~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 28, 2013 3:52PM

ELGIN — Rebecca Hendershott was surprised when, of all things, baby Jesus appeared in her manger just hours before Christmas.

That’s because the figurine of the holy child had disappeared just after Thanksgiving from in the light-up plastic Nativity scene outside the Hendershott family’s home at Big Timber and Hillcrest roads.

“It’s just very cool. It was a nice surprise Christmas Eve,” Hendershott said.

The family — Hendershott, her husband, their eight children and two grandchildren — moved the crèche from Hillcrest to the busy street corner about two years ago so they could share the scene with more people, she told The Courier-News last week.

That year, somebody placed the Jesus figure in the display, which Hendershott had set on the ground, into a cardboard box full of colorful scarves, she said. And last year, somebody had replaced that box with a wooden manger full of straw, she said.

So Hendershott was excited to see what would happen this year when she and her 21-year-old daughter set up the display the week after Thanksgiving, as was becoming tradition. Only, she wasn’t anticipating that the glowing infant would disappear.

It didn’t return right away after she added a sign to the scene nearly three weeks ago: “Please return Jesus.” But, she said, “A lot of people were reading it and seeing it. Maybe there was somebody who saw that and said, ‘This is something we need to do,’ or something. It’s totally cool.”

And it wasn’t there when her family returned at about 8 p.m. from Christmas Eve Mass at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in St. Charles, she said.

“We drove past, and everybody was looking out the window: ‘Oh, is he there yet?’ ” she said

But when her daughter came over at about 10 p.m. Monday, she found a baby lying in the manger — not the original figure, matching the rest of the Nativity, but a doll with a poem tucked into its swaddling clothes.

Hendershott said in her excitement, she hadn’t even noticed the six-stanza poem, which reads in part:

“It’s always been tradition,

For a believing family near,

To set out Baby Jesus

When Christmas midnight is here.

Sadly they couldn’t put out their set,

But I’m sent by them this joyous night,

To be a vicarious celebration,

Of His birth for many people’s sight.”

What’s funny, she said, is that even though she had spent most of the evening in the kitchen or the back sunroom where the family’s Christmas tree is set up, she never saw anybody drive or walk up to the Nativity scene on their lawn.

“That’s just the coolest thing to me,” Hendershott said. “He just appeared.”

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