Posted tagged ‘nativity scene’

Eric the Christ Child

December 19, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 19, 2017

                                    

(This is based on a true story that occurred on Sunday, December 17, 2017)

Three year old Eric arrived at the Methodist Church excited about his role in the Children’s Christmas Play as the baby Jesus. Even though he was a bit old to play the newborn babe he was the youngest available to fill the position. His mom was as excited as he was. She had her son scrubbed and spotless. A clean child seemed to be a prerequisite for Eric to act like Jesus.

They entered the sanctuary where there was already buzz and laughter. Two young girls in glimmering white dresses pranced around the front of the sanctuary. They were playing the role of angels to the disbelief of their brother.  Another girl who was about five was a third angel but she didn’t have a white dress. Instead she wore a red one. The devil, however, she wasn’t! It was a wardrobe decision based on financial resources, not theological assumptions.

Two handfuls of adults were scattered around the small sanctuary waiting with expectation. If the children’s program ran long the pastor had already forewarned them that she might not give the sermon for the morning.

They were hoping for slow-speaking children!

The pastor would need to exit following the service and drive the twenty miles or so to the other congregation she served. Worship in the Methodist Church was on a time limit!

The children were assembling themselves…three angels, two shepherds, and Jesus. Eric started heading up the center aisle, but Mrs. Book, the director, stopped him halfway to the altar. He was still wearing his red Santa hat. Red Santa hats were not a part of Jesus’ wardrobe. She eased it off the young boy’s head and handed it back to his mom. Eric’s long flowing hair was now fully visible.

The angels let him get settled in the chancel area in front of the communion table. There were probably a lot of theological ramifications to the going-ons but no one wanted to stop and have a discussion. Any veteran of children’s programs at Christmas time knows that pure theology is secondary in importance to cuteness and costume design.

The angels wrapped a white blanket around a sitting Jesus. Eric was ready to be the messiah!

The play started. The angels, standing on the left side of the platform, started talking to the shepherds, who were standing on the right side of the platform. Jesus was visible between them, taking in the dialogue. A few lines into the conversation he spread his arms to his sides and took on a messiah-like look. Since he had no dialogue lines to say it was his contribution to the action. After all, the angels were talking about him. He couldn’t just sit there and look uninvolved.

The play ended. It went long enough and the pastor couldn’t preach. The message had already been heard anyway!

And the messiah came dancing back down the aisle to where his mom was keeping his Santa hat safe!

Revising the Christmas Story

December 21, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 21, 2016

                            

I gave a “test” to the twenty folk who make up the congregation of the church I am “kinda’ pastoring” right now. I say “kinda’ pastoring” because my friend Steve Wamberg and I mostly fill the pulpit on Sundays, and are also helping them figure out the direction of their future ministry.

The test I gave them was “True and False” statements about the Christmas story. I love it, because it brings to the surface how much our understanding of the story has been determined by Christmas carols and conjecture. Through the layers of the years, music, and imagination there has been a lot of “stuff” added to the pure biblical story.

In Ken Bailey’s book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, he brings out a few of these story revisions. For example, how many nativity scenes will we see this Christmas that are set up in a make-shift barn stable? Growing up in eastern Kentucky where my grandparents lived on a farm, I identified with the Christ-child born on a bed of hay in a barn that creaked and shook in the wind. Since my grandparents had a pack of barn cats that roamed the farm I always envisioned a few feline figurines in the nativity scene. Ken Bailey makes the point that in the homes of Bethlehem the stable was actually inside the house. Livestock were brought indoors at night, and the house usually had two rooms- one where the family resided and one where the livestock bedded down. The manger would have been where the livestock were kept…in the house! It’s a cultural understanding that seems strange to us, so we have simply revised it to fit our understanding better.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Whether Jesus was born in a cave, a barn, or was bunking with the cattle in the house is not a detail that changes the essence of the story. The essence of the story that does not change is that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, come to earth in the flesh…fully human and fully divine!

But what about when layer after layer of imagination is added to the story? What happens when the created stories crowd out the original truth, the original meaning? As I sit on my “writing stool” at Starbucks I’m listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas”, and humming the tune that tells me that the best Christmas has snow. Unlike Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, it’s pretty doubtful that the first Christmas in the Bethlehem of Israel featured snow.

Saint Nicholas is a great story about a 4th Century Greek Christian bishop, known for his generosity to the impoverished. As time went on children were given gifts on the evening before St. Nicholas’s day of honor, December 6. During the Reformation there was increasing opposition to the honoring of saints. Martin Luther promoted the giving of gifts to children at that time, but sought to focus it back to the Christ-child. Santa Claus emerged sometime in the 17th or 18th Century as a blended character of Saint Nicholas and the English Father Christmas from the 16th Century.

Great story! Great and entertaining story…a jolly elderly man coming down chimneys, helped out by elves, escorted by flying reindeer. Great story!

My guess, however, is that if you gave a test to children and adults alike a huge majority would be much more proficient at knowing the Santa Claus created facts than the actual story of Saint Nicholas and…the biblical story of the birth of Jesus.

Imagination and creativity are wonderful gifts, but sometimes they steer us away from the story of the most wonderful Gift!

Manger Implications

November 26, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  November 26, 2015

                                     

Last night a group of us were decorating the church sanctuary for Christmas. Wreaths, Christmas tree, and nativity sets. Our church has about four different nativity sets which get positioned in different spots around the room.

As we decorated and started to place the manger scenes we discovered that a couple of the sets were incomplete. In one box Mary came up missing! She had fled the scene! In another there were twin baby Jesus’s! A third set had a Mary and Joseph who were dwarfed by Goliath-sized magi.

I was game to place the different manger scenes as they appeared, but was outvoted by the rest of the decorators. What a perfect time to make people think about the implications of the birth scene of Jesus by putting out the manger scenes as we had them.

A single parent manger scene with only Joseph! What would that have looked like for Jesus? For one thing he wouldn’t have had siblings, but, more than that, Mary seems to have been the nurturer in scripture. By the time Jesus was gathering his disciples Joseph has been gone for a long time. It can easily be said that Mary was second in importance to the Christ-child as part of the nativity scene cast.

Twin Jesus’s! That would have blown everyone’s minds! I can’t even comprehend the gospel story with twin messiahs.

The more I think about it the more I’m glad I was outvoted. There seems to be enough “messing with people’s theology” going on these days!

In our own minds we’re prone to re-create the story. The gospel has had people deleting from it for years. Just as Catholics perhaps over-emphasize the role of Mary, many Protestants aren’t sure what to do with her. She gives birth and then in our theology comes up missing after that.

Twin Jesus’s! Many of us live our Christianity based on that: one Jesus for Calvary and the other Jesus to convince us that life will be comfortable and worry-free if we simply believe in him.

Giant magi and “little people Mary and Joseph!” An appropriate and relevant picture to describe how prominent our faith journey is compared to other elements of our life.

Incomplete manger scenes are disturbing for many reasons!