Sunday, 9 December 2012

A Wise Encircling

       Advent season begins for me on December 1, when I get out all the Christmas decorations and turn on the seasonal music for a day’s pleasure. One of the best parts is setting up five unusual Nativity crèches, none of which I bought. 
One is a sorry little scene I formed out of homemade playdough, decades ago - three sheep, and the Holy Family. When the figures were baking they puffed up so much that when one sweet relative saw them she exclaimed delightedly,
“Oh, an Eskimo crèche!” 
A prettier grouping comprises several fragile figurines, painted white and gold, packed home from Mexico by a kindhearted friend years ago. 
Then there are the four wise men from Thailand. A tiny peach-coloured stone nativity was a thoughtful present from my brother and his wife, who live in Vietnam. The “lowing” animals include an elephant and a water buffalo, complete with nose-ring.
An African creche made from glowing acacia wood, takes its place on the fireplace mantle. Accompanied by camel, lamb and donkey, the human figures are six inches tall, their carefully carved faces tipped skyward as if in awe at the mystery. A long-time friend astonished me with this loving gift one Christmas after she returned from helping out at a hospital in Angola.

The lowliest of nativity scenes in my living room is a tacky little plastic set two friends gave me as a joke, insisting I unwrap it while they watched. The set came in a small drawstring bag and my friends could hardly contain themselves, waiting for the punch line, as I drew out one ugly piece after another:  two white sheep, two cows, black and brown, one shepherd, three kings, Joseph, and Mary, all cheaply moulded and prosaically coloured. At the bottom of the bag, my fingers finally found the baby in a manger and when I saw it I yelped with laughter. The baby was covered by a pink blanket, obviously a daughter. We three feminists enjoyed a long hilarity together. 
“Why do all the statues of Mary show her with a bowed head and somber face?”
“Because she wanted a girl!” 

I’m grateful for this happy variety of crèches from around the world. Most of them are too breakable for children to touch, but the other day, during the chaos of a family visit, my three-year-old granddaughter was getting bored. I pointed at the plastic set strewn on a side table and told her she could play with them. Our adult conversation continued and it wasn’t until hours later that I saw the arrangement she had left behind.

There was the plastic baby, surrounded by a perfect circle of sheep, cows and humans, all facing the newborn miracle. My heart caught for an instant at my grandchild’s intuitive wisdom. I believe that God sees you and me the way I see my African crèche, as a carefully crafted work of art, rich with meaning, a cherished treasure. But sometimes we feel and act more like ugly bits of plastic trash. At least I do. 
I sat still for a moment, taking in the message. Whatever the colliding realities of life, the Christmas baby should be at the centre. 

“Christ Jesus, being in very nature God, 
did not consider equality with God
something to be used
to his own advantage; 
rather, he made himself nothing 
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death
—even death on a cross! 
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue acknowledge 
that Jesus Christ is Lord, 
to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2)