Advent & Christmas greetings!
When I was a kid, my family had a children’s nativity. The three-sided barn was paper board covered in barn patterned fabric. The lyrics to “Away in a Manger” were printed on the back. The people, angels, and animals were made from fabric and stuffed to be able to stand upright. And of course, there was a tiny stuffed baby Jesus nestled in a stuffed manger. The plush nativity sat on the lower shelf on the living room end table. I always loved pulling it out of storage each December and I remember laying on the ground playing with the animals, swooping the angels, moving the wise-men a little closer each day, and
of course reciting the story to myself and my little brothers.
This was not the only nativity set in our house. We also had a very fragile ceramic set with a wooden barn that we would set up on top of the TV. (Yes, we still had one of those wooden cabinet style TV’s for most of my childhood!) My mom would let me help her carefully take the figures out of their wrappings and arrange the scene. I had to use a stool to reach or get on my tip toes. Once everything was in place the rule was, no more touching, only looking.
As I was thinking back on those days, I was struck by these two very different interactions with the Christmas story. In the first case, I was encouraged to get up close and personal with the nativity. I could hold the baby in my hands, move the pieces around, and act out the story. The scene was physically down at my level. I laid on my belly and played. In the second case, I was not allowed to get too close. There was no getting personally acquainted with the figures or the story. They might get damaged! This was only for show. It was physically up high, and for me to see it well, I had to be on my tip toes and look up high.
Now, there is nothing wrong with a beautiful and fragile nativity. I think they invite a reverence for the story and for the precious gift the scene is displaying, but I have to admit, I really prefer that children’s nativity. The one that invited me in, encouraged me to play-tell the story, the one that said, this gift, this squishy child in the manger, is not just for show, but is meant for you. I think there is something beautifully poetic about this plush nativity tucked away on the low shelf of the living room end table, accessible to lowly children. Jesus, God’s son, sent to turn the world upside down, to lift up the humble and cast down those on high, who’s own humble origins involved a messy human birth, a bed in a feed trough, and animal and shepherd companions, all in a small tucked away town. This nativity said to me as a small child that God’s story is not just for show, but that my story is part of God’s story. The faith given to me in this child is to be explored, handled, shared, maybe even knocked around a bit. God is not fragile. Don’t be afraid to do more than just look!
Have a blessed December. “He came down that you may have love, light, peace, and joy.”
Pastor Megan finds that she rarely has all the right answers, but tries to help her community ask better questions.