Wait For It
In the not-so-distant past, great wars erupted over baby Jesus in our house. Not the actual, living, breathing baby Jesus who burst into the world on that first Christmas Day, but the small figurine that accompanied our crèche. Our household was evenly split on whether baby Jesus should be placed in the manger before Christmas or on Christmas.
The argument for putting him into the nativity set earlier in December revolved around his being anintegral part of the scene. What’s a crèche without Jesus? It’s just a bunch of shepherds and wise men standing around a cold stable for no apparent reason. Not to mention the accusations flying around about not being in the proper Christmas spirit. What’s next? Not hanging a wreath on the front door?
The other side of the debate held that Advent, the liturgical season that precedes Christmas, is all about anticipation and waiting. Be patient! Jesus is on the way, but has not yet arrived. If you can wait until the 25th to open your presents, you can wait a couple more weeks to complete the nativity tableau.
Once the boys got involved and started taking sides — opposing ones, naturally — baby Jesus ended up in a few tug-of-wars. In the absence of Jesus, the empty manger would invariably be filled with someone: Spiderman. Mrs. Incredible. A stray army man. Though, the Hulk was too big and knocked the whole thing over. And there was that one year, someone hid baby Jesus so well that he didn’t turn up until after Easter.
In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor issue with which to contend. In a world where famine and persecution and natural disasters and crushing poverty is encountered every day, Jesus himself wouldn’t be overly concerned with precious nativity sets placed on mantle places, often more for decoration than devotion.
But theologically speaking, both responses to the baby Jesus figurine conundrum are correct. Jesus is always present — that’s the Incarnational promise of Christmas, after all. That the Son of God entered the world in human form and abides with us through whatever we encounter in this mortal life. Yet that sense of anticipation is an integral part of our spiritual lives this season. It gives us the space to fully prepare ourselves to receive him anew each year.
There are all sorts of nativity sets available on Amazon. In recent years I’ve seen one featuring Star Wars characters and another that’s comprised entirely of dogs. My favorite, though, is the Hipster Nativity Set ($59.95 on Amazon) complete with Mary and Joseph taking a selfie with baby Jesus, the Three Wisemen on Segways carrying Amazon Prime boxes, solar panels on the roof of the stable, and a shepherd in skinny jeans Snap-chatting the whole scene.
In the end, if you’re setting up a crèche in the weeks before Christmas, I hope you’ll think deeply about the significance of it. Reflect on the characters, think about the story from their varying perspectives, and whatever you decide to do with baby Jesus, know that you are deeply and profoundly loved by God.