Luke 2:8 – and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
While unpacking our Christmas decorations this week, I realized that I have a problem.
Is it serious?
I am not quite sure.
Does it need to be fixed?
I’ll let you weight in.
Here’s the “problem”: I have A LOT of Christmas decorations that portray the nativity scene. You know, some ornament or wall hanging or statue or actual nativity that depicts Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus. They come in all different sizes and shapes, colors and types of material. The problem is, I have a lot.
In all honesty, many of these have been given to me. Based on this information, one might conclude that giving a nativity to the pastor sounds like a good idea.
And it is.
As I have carefully unpacked and hung and displayed and found the right place for the various nativities that I have, I began to notice a few things.
All portray Mary and Joseph as this very happy couple. There is not one frown on any nativity piece that I have. The couple are all happy and pleasant and SO EXCITED about their new little bundle of joy. Sometimes, Baby Jesus also seems to have a smile, which is a first, because I have never seen a newborn with a big smile.
In our lovely, white-washed version of the nativity, we often see the ooh’s and aah’s over a newborn baby. The reality probably was laced with ridiculous stress and anxiety. The baby survived the very real threat that he would be born in the street. Only when a very generous innkeeper extended some serious hospitality did the couple find a place out of public domain before the baby arrived. By this time, a stable sounded like heaven.
While most first-time mothers would have had the companionship of another experienced woman to coach them through their first childbirth, it appears all Mary had was an unexperienced husband. One who was much better with an anvil than cutting an umbilical cord. But desperate times require creativity and desperate measures.
Rather than tears of joy and happiness, I anticipate there were tears of relief. Relief for making it to Bethlehem, the gift of a stable and hay in a manger that would suffice as a make-shift bed. As awful as this whole birth plan ended up being, it could have been a whole lot worse.
We want this story to have a perfect ending with a perfectly tied bow on top. But I’m not sure this is what really happened. Yes, there could have been smiles as a sign of relief. It is just as likely there were tears and screams and confused animals wondering who had invaded their quiet little shelter.
Instead of smiles, maybe expressions of awe that the Son of God was present with them would be appropriate. And maybe, we should discover that awe as well.
Many nativities include shepherds, wise men, an angel along with Mary and Joseph and the baby. While it makes the photo look nice, it is unlikely everyone ended at the stable at the same time. Yes, the shepherds were nearby. But it might have taken months for the wise men to find Bethlehem and the baby.
We like to take the stories of Luke 2 and Matthew 1 and combine them together into a quick, short, few days event. There probably was a longer time period between all that happened. While shepherds and angels and wise men all look so cool in the manger, the timeline is probably more than 12 days between birth and epiphany (when the wise men arrived.)
We will never be able to resolve this timetable and determine just what happened when. And it is not really necessary. Instead, let’s love the symbolism of the lowliest of people being the baby’s first visitors. Let’s see how the wise men’s gifts were a glimpse into the baby’s future. Let’s find the courage to honor each detail of the story, learn and love all that we can from it.
While we do not know the exact date of Jesus’ birth, we celebrate it during the time when sunlight is at its short amount of the year. Advent begins in the long, dark nights of December and culminates with a baby born into a world full of sorrow. Jesus’ birth came at a bleak time of history. The people were looking for something to give them hope. They were stuck in sorrow and were not sure how to move forward.
We do not have to look far these days to see fear, isolation and heaviness that pulls down in our weary world today. We’re tired of a pandemic. We’re exhausted from everything being turned into a political discussion. We just want a break.
And here comes Advent. Ready and longing to give us the chance to rekindle hope and overcome the challenges that bring us down.
If you are finding it hard to completely move beyond the troubles of our world right now, I pray we can take a long look at the baby we find in all the various nativities we see this Advent. May we put our trust and hope in the One who has come to be with us, the One who can remove all current and future threats and the One who is always trustworthy and true.
Is having too many nativities a problem? Or an opportunity to see so many different ways people, and artists and ordinary folks have interpreted this most precious of event and scene? Let’s put out every nativity we have as a poignant reminder and symbol that the One who can save the world already has.
For the reminder of what the nativity can mean for us today, I am grateful.
Lord God – every nativity has its own point of view of what happened in a stable that night. I pray we keep the awe and wonder in our hearts this Advent. May we remind ourselves daily that You have already sent the One who has changed history and our world forever. Help us in our unbelief to find hope and awe once again. Amen.