I wrote this short piece originally for Third Presbyterian Church on December 27, 2015. The senior pastor and I decided to do brief vignettes about, for lack of a better term, Christmas Stuff instead of a traditional sermon. I wrote about choosing my nativity set.
I had a difficult time purchasing my first grown-up nativity set. There is a lot to think about.
Do you get the set that looks like a barn? Because that’s not quite right. Or do you look for a set that doesn’t include the shelter? That doesn’t feel right either.
Do you make sure there are enough camels for each of the three wise men? Or do you assume they traveled on foot? Did they have a servant that traveled with them? What shape should the container be that is holding the myrrh? Should the wise men be on the other side of the living room until Epiphany?
Do you get an angel holding a banner saying “Gloria in excelcious deo”? Would the shepherds have understood Latin? And exactly how many angels make up “a multitude”?
How about the animals? Should the sheep be strewn about? Or does all of creation experience the goodness of God decently and in order?
What should baby Jesus look like? Is he so wrapped up that he looks like a bundle of joy? Does he have his hands in the “papal blessing” signal? And should he be on the scene before Christmas morning?
Finally, I decided on a nativity set. It has a vague shelter doorway shape so I don’t have to worry about exactly what the place looked like.
It has one camel, quiet honestly, they spit, and who would want even one next to their precious baby, let alone three. The camel is at the very edge of my nativity set and sometimes I pretend the others are tied to a near by tree, just out of sight and spitting range.
I add an angel every year. None of them speak Latin. Some hold stars, or candles or lanterns. Others have flowers and olive branches. Two are kneeling to pray.
Mary is holding baby Jesus and looking into his sweet face. At least that’s how I imagine, because my nativity set does not have faces.
That is my favorite part. The shepherds’ expressions might be fearful or joyful. They might be looking for a sheep or a friend who should see this baby too. The wise men look tired from their journey or revived by the newness of the baby. The angels have an “I told you so smirk” or maybe their faces shine so brightly we can’t tell.
Every year the faces look different, because I’m different, and the way I experience Christmas is different. I can be excited or over it. Sometimes Christmas is full of joy and sometimes it is full of sorrow. But no matter what, Christ is born in our hearts again and again.
The 2019 up-date is that I have a second camel… life is so funny! There are extra sheep and goats too. I also have more angels. Two of them are holding dogs, one is holding a bird, and two are holding shovels. I figured I needed the ones with the shovels to scoop the extra poop. They are really the angels of gardening or something like that. I’m really surprised how many animals I’ve added… must be a reflection of love for my dog Penelope.
I’ve added figures that don’t have wings too. Some resemble angels and others look like shepherds or at least animal care-takers or maybe just ordinary people like you and like me. Still others are holding more expensive looking things, so they end up on the side with the kings. The one holding a book came out of the box mysteriously decapitated. I’m not sure how to interpret that… seems as though ‘love of learning’ lost her mind. We set her aside until we can find the crazy glue.
My favorite part of the set is still Mary holding baby Jesus.
I wrote about taking down the nativity set before in Timing the Takedown if you are interested in more reflections about it.