"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Luke 2:11 (KJV)
Picture your favorite representation of the Nativity scene. Perhaps your favorite nativity is a felt nativity scene glued to a piece of cardboard that your children made many Christmases ago, or maybe it’s that large Nativity scene that your neighbor places in his yard each year. Or, possibly, it’s the nativity scene you see, in your mind, each time you hear the Christmas story. For me, it’s a set of small, frosted glass figurines that I’ve set on the coffee table in my parents’ home for as long as I can remember. Mary, with a small chip in her forehead from the year my childish hands dropped her to the floor, is strategically placed closer to Baby Jesus, her hands clasped in humble adoration. Some years, Joseph stands behind Mary. Other years, he stands opposite Mary at the other end of the manger. The three wisemen offer their gifts from a respectful distance. Regardless of where I place Joseph, or which wiseman has been unwrapped from his tissue paper covering first, the placement of the Holy Family is traditional and prescribed. Each figurine has a place on the table.
In the image of your own Nativity scene, you have pictured Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus in a stable, on a dark night in Bethlehem. Perhaps you have included a shepherd, sheep, heralding angels, or the wisemen offering their gifts. We picture the Nativity this way because we know the story. We know why Mary and Joseph set out to Bethlehem. We know why Jesus was born in a stable rather than in the inn. We know who followed the star. We know the gifts presented to the infant child.
But, just for a moment, try to forget that image of the Nativity. Imagine what it must have felt like to be Mary or Joseph that night. Everything that you had planned, everything that you had prepared for, everything that you thought you knew, changed. Here there is no prescribed placement around the Nativity. Mary and Joseph don’t know how the story ends, what might befall them – or the child that Mary bears. During the stillness of the night, or perhaps the chaos, Christ is born. Hope has come for God’s people. Christ has arrived at the exact time, in the exact location that God has chosen.
This Christmas season, for many of us, looks so different from years past. Our prescribed actions, so integral to our understanding of Christmas, have changed. Our decorations may be smaller, if we have chosen to decorate at all. Our congregations may be holding virtual services. Advent wreaths may be set up in our homes rather than on a church worship table. We may be missing the familiarity of all that we have come to associate with Christmas – whether it is people, places, or things. We may not gather with our loved ones, or the ones we love may not be present in earthly form. Perhaps we do not feel the light of Christmas in our hearts this year. We feel uncertain, on-edge, fearful, anxious, tense, sad, longing for the familiar. All of the emotions that we have felt, and may be feeling, are emotions that Joseph and Mary too, must have felt as they journeyed to Bethlehem. As strange as this Christmas season, this holiest of days, may feel, we are exactly where we need to be.
In the foreignness of this unprecedented, yet familiar season, one thing remains the same. Christ has come. Christ is born, and a light shines through the darkness. Praise be to God!
Katie Smith lives in Asheville, North Carolina. She serves as Accessibility Specialist at UNC Asheville and as adjunct faculty at Radford University. Katie has a Master of Arts Degree in Disability Studies from the City University of New York. She also has experience with disability as a person who has cerebral palsy. Katie is a member of the Church of the Brethren and serves as a field associate for ADN.