Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel. [That is, God is with us] ~~ Isaiah 7:14
Often plays begin with a list of characters including the name and a short description. What would the list of characters look like for the Christmas pageant or the nativity scenes that we display at Christmas?
I enjoy having nativity scenes set up and it was during my time working with Ten Thousand Villages that I began collecting them. I enjoy the variety of expressions displayed and some of my favourites are the ones that have taken the Christmas story and depicted it in a way that is particularly relevant for their own setting.
One of these special sets I purchased when I was in Cameroon in 2003 and it was interesting to see the way they displayed all the clay pieces. The manger with the baby was in the centre with all the other pieces surrounding them in adoration. The scene was not set up like a stage but as an act of worship.
In so many cases the nativity characters depict the act of God becoming present in real settings within cultures and among people. As I look at these varied scenes I am reminded that God comes to us, not as some ancient story that is told once a year but as one who wants to participate with us in our lives, in our every day.
As I began writing this blog I had in mind a positive reflection on God’s presence as depicted through these various nativity scenes. However, my mind cannot separate the depictions of Jesus’ birth with the scenes of destruction and pain that fill the news today. These images come together as I look at the olive wood carvings made by artisans from the Bethlehem area. The carvings are beautiful and polished yet the area where these artisans live is a war zone filled with rubble and destruction. Is God still present there? Can God be present amongst the devastation? Can the people of Gaza declare, “God with us”? That is a question that I am not in a position to answer. My own words feel empty in the face of what is happening. Yet I pray…
My prayer is that while we celebrate and repeat the words “God with us” from the safety of our comfortable homes, that we also remember those who do not experience that privilege, those in places where it may be hard to feel God’s presence, those who cry “How long, O Lord.”