Bit proud of myself. I made my own nativity scene – after many years trying to find something that, A) isn’t a ludicrously-coloured kids’ version, and B) doesn’t cost a month’s pay.
I raided the kids’ toy box for some animal figurines: a few lambs, a sheep and a donkey. A bird’s nest made the manger, a bit of creative folding of a length of bandage for baby Jesus, a hessian star – all whacked under a glass cloche (Masterchef eat your heart out!), and voila!
The idea featured in the December issue of a certain home decorating magazine. Er, the idea I copied that is…
So our modest little nativity scene (sans Mary and Joseph – still working on them!) is sitting on a side table in our lounge room. Behind it looms the Christmas tree, laden with tinsel, shiny baubles, be-glittered ornaments, twinkling lights and all manner of gaudy Christmas objects.
I love it. But the juxtaposition of my humble nativity scene with that other leafy celebration of Christmas was poignant.
For someone who would change the course of history, Jesus’ entrance was no red carpet affair. Despite claiming the title of king, his birth had less of the hallmarks of a Kate-and-William-birth, and more in common with that poor bub found dumped in a Sydney drain.
A humble beginning.
Why did God allow it to unfold in this way?
Mary was just a kid – probably as young as 13. At full-term, Mary and Joseph were expected to travel to Bethlehem for the census and, like trying to get a hotel room in Melbourne on footy grand final day, they couldn’t find anything better than a shed, an animal shelter in someone’s backyard. That’s where Jesus was born, with animals as witness, the musty smell of hay and dung mixing with Mary’s sweat and blood. His bed was a feeding trough.
Are you getting this?
A teen pregnancy come full term to travel-weary and temporarily homeless parents. An unmarried couple who were no doubt treated with contempt by those who didn’t buy Mary’s virgin conception story. An inglorious stable and some rags in place of a comfy bed, midwives and a hand-knitted layette.
Why the humble entrance?
Thing is, the birth may have been lowly, but the response was unparalleled.
A whole host of angels appeared to shepherds nearby, telling of Jesus’ birth and giving directions to his birthplace. They left saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14)
Wise men followed a star to visit Jesus, bringing lavish gifts (Matthew 2). And King Herod was so threatened by the ‘humble’ birth of this baby that he gave orders to have all boys under the age of two in Bethlehem killed.
I don’t know anyone whose birth provoked such a grand response as this.
A whole army of angels. Extravagant gifts. The ire of a king.
I’m looking at my nativity scene again, Christmas tree glittering in the background, and thinking this: do we allow space for God to make things glorious anymore?
The Christmas story is lacking in itinerary and birth plan, but heaving with examples of God’s provision. As you read the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the Bible, you get a sense of Mary’s peace. This was no control-freak, list girl. Amidst the angels, the guiding star and the wise men, there’s a little verse that gives it away.
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
I know Christmas is hectic and there’s so much to get done. But sometimes we must rewind and just mull over the ‘why?’ of it all. Throw the list out and allow space for God. Ponder in your heart the glory of that humble birth.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday December 15, 2014.