I had a difficult time taking the nativity set down this year.
Here are the reasons that seem obvious to me:
- I was too lazy to go down to the basement to get the box. The laundry that needs to be done is down there too; I was avoiding two chores.
- I wanted to make a few new fabric sacks and throw away some of the store packaging but couldn’t find time to get the sewing machine out either. I have a hard time justifying sewing that isn’t for Days for Girls too. So, if I’m going to get the machine out for my own project I feel guilty if I don’t also sew a shield or liner or drawstring bag.
- I wanted to do it at the “right time” whatever that means.
I’m going to call the first two reasons personality quirks and work them out in therapy someday. The Third one, feels a bit more of a theological query.
I usually put the nativity set up in Advent (ideally the first Sunday in Advent). I arrange the characters so that the shepherds are on the same side as Mary and the wisemen are on the same side as Joseph. That feels like I have separated Luke’s account from Mark’s account of the birth of Jesus.
I chose this particular nativity set because Mary is holding baby Jesus. The sets that have baby Jesus in the manger posed as if he is on the cross bother me. I want to enjoy the moment of God coming to dwell with us, for just a moment, before I think on his death. My family passes new babies from relative to relative and fights over who’s turn it is and who is being a baby hog, so even the ones with baby Jesus swaddled with everyone looking at him also seem odd to me. Who would pass up the chance to snuggle with a sleepy baby?
Two ideas are true. I would like to leave it up the appropriate amount of time. I have no idea what I mean by “the appropriate amount of time”.
Is that Epiphany? Yes. Although, it seems unfair to the wisemen to take down the nativity set on the day they arrive on the scene. And Epiphany seems too soon for me too. Sometimes the peace that is supposed to come with Christmas, comes a few days later when all of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season comes to a close. I like for all of the secular decorations and tree to come down as soon as the tree begins to rain needles onto the carpet, but I need a break from the secular holiday, a time to snuggle with the new baby, to see his mother hold him, to watch the shepherds, angels, and wisemen gather around. I have taken the nativity set down on Epiphany but only if I’ve taken the secular holiday stuff down a little sooner.
Is that Candlemass? Yes. Forty days after the birth of a son, Mary would have followed the Levitical code and brought an offering make atonement and be clean from her flow of blood. Leviticus 12 details how long a woman is unclean after childbirth and Leviticus 15 is about uncleanness after menstruation (and other bodily discharges, don’t worry boys there is something in there for you too). This feels like the right time to take down the nativity set if you want to hold onto baby Jesus a little longer than Epiphany. I think it is meaningful to think of the timing of the event in Mary’s life when she was made clean after birthing our savior. The feminist in me wants to mark the occasion that would feel meaningful to the woman central (or just left of center) to the incarnation. However, this year I did’t take the nativity down in February, I waited a bit longer.
Is that Holy Saturday? Yes, this year I waited until the day before Easter to take down the nativity set. I purchased flowers for the table for Easter dinner and I put away the nativity like I was stripping the sanctuary. It felt sad and final. And I thought about how Jesus followers must have felt like all of the joy had been sucked out of the world. It gave me something to do on Saturday that felt like a ritual or some sort of observance to mark the day.
Several years ago, I left the nativity set up for over a year. It was too long. Looking back on it now, and knowing what I was going through at the time, I wonder if I needed something to cling to. Some object. And also to cling to the idea that God chose to dwell among us and let a woman (and all of us) hold him close.
Maybe “the appropriate time” doesn’t exist as a calendar date.
Maybe its about avoided chores and guilt.
Maybe it is unintentional and meaningless.
But, I hope, I can bring intentional time, even worship, to the practical act of removing the nativity set no matter what the calendar date. Because, I hope to bring intentional time, even worship, to any day and everyday.