Nativity Scene



I love to gaze at nativity scenes at this time of year. There are all varieties, all shapes and sizes, from minuscule ones that you can place on your shelf to life-size replicas all afire with splendour and radiance. Some are clay with painted faces, others white porcelain, trimmed with gold. There are collections that you can set up yourself, with as many sheep or angels as you wish. In many, Mary is depicted as adoring her new baby, while Joseph is off to the side, looking on. Wise men kneel before the rough wooden cradle, and there is a star above the whole scene.

To me, it is a symbol of what has become the drama of the Christmas message: the Christ child recognized as the coming King; God’s love for mankind as he reaches out to us in our own form. And not only to us, but to all creation as well, for a variety of animals are present, surrounding the cradle in the manger as witnesses to this marvellous event. There are choirs of angels in the starry sky. There are rejoicing shepherds.

I try to imagine what it must have been like to have been a lowly manger owner, kind enough to give shelter to travellers, one of whom was heavy with child. Did he also give them supper to eat? Who owned the sheep? Where did the wise men stay? Did they bring tents?

We are given an opportunity to guess at what Mary might have felt, knowing something of what lay before her, perhaps mulling it over in her heart.

How, then – as I observe our Christmas traditions today – did we stray so far from the simplicity of rejoicing in the humble beginnings of this truly grand faith? How did we go from that simple message – Good News for Mankind – to the complexity and insanity that we consistently experience at this time of year? Its transformation over two millennia is as startling as its original message.

I’m not humbugging Christmas, here. I enjoy my holiday celebration, even a bit of the commercialism, as much as everyone else. In some past years, I’ve even enjoyed it a teensy bit too destructively for my own good. I’m sure that many people can say the same. But I still wonder if we, in our fantastic rush to get it further, faster, better, and more fun, missed the major point of it all?

I don’t even object to the mixing of other traditions, so called “pagan” elements, into the holiday season. Everyone has their way, and most of the festive stuff is tribal in origin anyway. I like Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Disney cartoons, and even the endless reruns of “A Christmas Carol”. On the other hand, I can do without the “Nutcracker Suite” either in skating or ballet form. Or carols sung in country ‘n’ western. But I still hang up my socks on Christmas Eve, and some poor soul had better fill them up. (Or I’ll pout on Christmas day).

As I get older though, and have gradually become more inured to the same old societal embarrassments — poverty within one of the world’s wealthiest nations, unchecked violence, the refusal to build much-needed housing, etc. — I rejoice more frequently in the simpler things of life. I guess that’s why, this time of year, it’s particularly significant that the star shines brightly over Bethlehem, and breaks through the darkness of night.

(As it was away in a manger, so long ago.)


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