I have a nativity scene that sits on my shelf all year long. This one isn’t a Christmas decoration. It’s a reminder to me to keep the things of Christmas alive in my heart every day of the year – love, joy, peace, hope. Jesus.
This particular nativity scene is unpretentious. I like that. It is made of woven straw by a Ten Thousand Villages artisan from Ecuador. It is a humble depiction of Mary and Joseph watching over baby Jesus in a manger with a star above them. Brilliant in its simplicity in representing the wondrous, glorious, divine arrival of the Son of God on earth in human form in a smelly, cold, uncomfortable stable.
I have always been enthralled by nativity scenes. Drawn to that tiny baby that changed the world. And would one day save and forever change my life.
But I didn’t know that when, around five years old, my eyes first saw the nativity set in my Nana’s house. I was too young then to truly understand the meaning of Jesus’ birth. Too young to understand that what happened in Bethlehem that night was a quiet celebration. A beginning of God’s grand plan to save humanity. To save me. And yet, that nativity set captivated me.
Truthfully, in a house that lacked toys, warmth and love, this nativity set was magical. And out of place. Even at that young age its presence on my Nana’s end table during the Christmas season both confused and fascinated me.
I didn’t like visiting my Nana’s house. It was filled with cigarette smoke, empty Coke cans, endless TV noise and bitterness. It was a sharp contrast to the home of my Mennonite grandparents where love overflowed and enveloped me in numerous ways in which my Nana just wasn’t capable. As a child, I didn’t have the capacity to understand her pain and poverty or the absence of this grandfather. One home was filled with God and love, the void in the other palpable even to young me.
But at my Nana’s house, as seen through the eyes of a little girl, was this magnificent nativity set. Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus in the manger, Wisemen carrying their gifts, shepherds with their rods and staffs, a camel, sheep, and donkey. Straw nestled around their feet. And a glowing, yellow lightbulb that backlit the star above the wooden stable. I found joy in turning that light on and off. And on and off.
This nativity set was the only glimpse of Jesus that I found in the darkness of my Nana’s house. As I write this, my first instinct was to say that there wasn’t a nativity scene at my grandparents’ home, but in retrospect, it would be more accurate to say that I don’t remember there being one. Whether there was or not, it just confirms to me the significance of the one I remember in vivid detail. And why.
As an adult, I have always desired to have a nativity scene for my own home. One year I wrote it on my Christmas wish list. And then crossed it off. I was afraid that someone might get me the wrong one. That I would be disappointed. That somehow it could possibly taint or diminish my soul’s connection to this phenomenal event. That I might lose something precious by having a replica in my home rather than the real thing in my heart.
I could have picked out the exact nativity scene that I wanted to ensure I liked it. I could have even gifted it to myself. But I held on to that secret longing for a very long time. It was at a summer craft sale that I purchased the one I have now. It wasn’t Christmas. It was July. And because I wasn’t about to dig out the Christmas decorations to pack it away until December, I put it on the shelf in my office. And there it stays.
Last night as I was out for my walk, I paused in front of the flower shop to look at the Christmas decorations displayed in the window. There were a few depictions of the nativity. They touched my heart. I smiled. At this birth. At this beginning. At this miracle.
I am in awe.
The first time that You opened Your eyes
Did You realize that You would be my Saviour
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever ….
And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life.
(I Celebrate the Day – Relient K)