Pronunciation: n-tiv-t-, n-
Inflected Form(s): plural -ties
1 capitalized : the birth of Jesus
2 : the time, place, or manner of being born : BIRTH
I love Nativity sets. Growing up, it was sort of "my thing" to be the one to set up the Nativity. I'll admit as a four or five-year-old that it was most likely the play-house-figurine-factor that lured me into participating. But, as I got older, I grew to enjoy the tradition and appreciate the true meaning of what the Nativity represented.
I started collecting Nativities sometime in high school. My parents bought me the Fontanini set a piece at a time, each Christmas receiving a new figurine to expand the story being told. (If you love Nativities, check out the Italian Fontanini set, it is just lovely.) And since, I have added a variety to the collection from a little puzzle Nativity my Grandpa made, to one carved out of olive wood actually from Bethlehem. I treasure each one and am very specific to love each version of the sculptured scenes for a real reason - that is, I won't be adding any Precious Moments or Peanuts Characters editions to the collections - not that there is anything really wrong about that, but I just want my heart to stay closely tied to my Nativity's true representation and not let them get lost among the silver bells and tinsel and other decor. After all, Nativities are not really decoration in my opinion. As beautiful as they are, they really are precious symbols of a moment captured in time - a time we all are so hyper-aware-of that we are willing to take a day off of work, buy each other gifts, go to church, and bake uncontrollably, all in the name of comfort and joy - and oh yeah, a moment that at one point just a couple thousand years ago welcomed the miracle of all miracles onto our very own planet.
This is my third Christmas as a mother, and each year since having my own bundle of joy, I can't help but think about Mary. Right about now, she would have been great with child. Her ankles swollen, her back aching, and her belly full of a Holy bouncing baby boy, literally. I know what it is like to be ridiculously huge with child - just beyond pregnant to to the point of pure aggravation with counting the minutes until that baby would finally make an appearance. But, I can't even begin to fathom riding a donkey, not knowing where I would deliver, and carrying the Messiah of the Universe in my womb. Umm, whoa. And Mary didn't have the "What To Expect When You're Expecting" app on her iPhone to help pass the time as they made the trek to Bethlehem.
And think of Joseph!? Walking that whole way? Probably worried about when and where they would end up - if they would even get settled in time before the baby arrived. And, honestly, did he wonder what Jesus would come out looking like? I mean, it's not his kid, and having been told it was the Holy Child from an Angel, did he worry this baby would come out glowing in holiness? Would he recognize him as his own child, or as his Savior....or both? And...how again is it that you cut the umbilical cord? Oh yeah, Joseph had to know that too.
You've most likely heard the gospel message of the Nativity time and time again: No room in the inn...only a stable available...Jesus born and laid in a manger...the shepherds...the wise men...etc. But, when is the last time you truly pictured it happening? You probably know somebody who is expecting a baby right now - seeing their status updates of uncomfortability, buying new things for the nursery, reading the parenting books. Maybe you are even pregnant yourself, counting each kick with anticipation of the next, rubbing your belly and praying for no stretchmarks, making your list for the hospital (and checking it twice). But seriously, think about Mary and Joseph NOW. Some of us think having a baby in a hospital is crazy, while others think it is nuts to go to a "birthing center" or just looney to try a "home birth". Well, I don't see anybody lining up for the "stable birth experience" so I'm guessing it wasn't too pleasant...yet, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ himself was born among farm animals, wrapped in scraps, and cried his first cries in a feed trough.
If you can imagine the sensations in that little shelter, it makes me nearly ill to truly think about how overwhelming it all must have been. Joseph, nervous, second-guessing every God-given instinct as he catches the baby's head. Mary, sweaty and frightened, confident with the adrenaline only the relief of birth can offer a woman, taking the baby to her breast for the first time as if it was second-nature. And Christ, the King of Kings, opening His eyes to the world He created for the first time as a human, crying with the voice He designed, anxiously feeding as a helpless newborn in the only way He knew how...perfectly. It must have been dark and damp. It must have been surrounded with low groans and loud breaths from the animals. And, if you've ever smelled the scent of either birth or farm animals...well, let's just say there is a reason Yankee Candle hasn't jumped on the Christmas scent of "Nativity Stable" for the holidays. The most unlikely of settings for the most magnificent of guests.
So, maybe next time when you look at the Nativity figurine-trifecta sitting on a side table, or a retail display, or a church organ, maybe you won't just see pretty little sculptures set up for decoration...but maybe you will see them with your heart, and remember how that ceramic baby Jesus was real and human...even stinky and loud at times...and came to save us all.
O Holy Night.