So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke 2: 16-20 (NRSV)
At two, our oldest son Todd would stand on a chair to reach a plastic nativity set on top of a music case. He would move the figures around for what seemed like hours. Through the years we probably added more than 50 sets from around the world to our collection. Our first special set was from Costa Rica and carved out of coffee tree wood.
While I don't have one favorite nativity, I do like the tin Mexican figures who "sleep" in a tin box until the next Christmas. The set from Argentina has a bell in each figure and the Toba Indian set has the three figures dressed in Andean garments. A colorful set from Ecuador has all the figures nestled inside an armadillo- shaped gourd.
It is interesting how each country portrays Jesus in their own nationality and dress--so we have the ponchos and dark faces on many. We all seem to want a Jesus who "looks like us" and therefore can understand our joys and tears.
One merchant in Spain wanted to give me a "special deal" on a set that was missing the baby Jesus. I tried to explain that the baby was the point of the whole set. I guess that foretold the following Christmases back in the US that missed the "point" of it all.
When we lived in Argentina as missionaries, our friends and neighbors were surprised that we had so many nativities. Only Catholics displayed such, while Protestants displayed only Christmas trees. Although I never think of nativities as "little idols," I do like having them as a visual reminder of the birth of Christ and its significance to us in our belief. It has been a joy to unpack the sets while listening to the music of Christmas.
Dear Lord, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus this Christmas, help us to remember the hope, joy, love and peace that were all wrapped up in a tiny baby in the manger. Amen.