Written by Brian Johnson
The nativity sets in my home don’t have a baby Jesus.
At least, right now, they don’t. Our house has a pretty high number of nativity sets in it – from the couch in my Living Room I can count eight – including a plastic toy set, a finger puppet set, and the nice wooden set that we got the first Christmas after we were married.
And, right now, in the middle of December, most of them are missing baby Jesus. When we set up our Nativity sets at the start of Advent, we put out Mary, and Joseph, and the sheep and cattle and shepherds and all of that – but Jesus gets hidden away, usually in the china cabinet.
Why? It’s our way of telling the story of Advent. Advent is a season of waiting – a time when we pray, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” – when we remember how Mary and Joseph and the prophets must have felt as they waited for Jesus. It’s also a time when we honor our own waiting – when we remember that we are still waiting for God to put an end to sin, to put right all the things that are wrong with our world. Advent is an opportunity, every year, to say “God, we are waiting on you to be born among us yet again. We are praying for your peace, your justice, your hope, your love born anew in our midst.” During Advent, we wait, we hope, we pray for God to show up.
And so, in the Johnson home, that means we wait to put Jesus into our nativity scenes. In fact, for our fancy wooden “Willow Tree” nativity set, we actually got an additional matching figure – of a pregnant woman – that we put out in place of the Mary that comes with our set. It reminds us to slow down, not to rush to Christmas, and to take our time to hope and pray for the gift of God’s new life within our lives.
But, on Christmas morning, Jesus shows up. One of the first things we do – once we’ve started the coffee pot and grabbed some Christmas cookies (a pre-breakfast snack!) is to hunt down all the Jesuses and put them in their place. It’s a simple little ritual – each kid gets to place one or two of them, one of the adults manages the more fragile pieces – but it’s a way, each Christmas morning, to remind ourselves of what is being celebrated. The Holy One has joined us in the mess of human life. Christmas morning, in all its chaos and wonder and joy and exhaustion, is a place where God shows up – just like God showed up in a stable in Bethlehem two millennia ago.
So, whether or not Jesus has already shown up in your nativity set, may you remember this deeper truth: God, in Jesus, has shown up in our world. God has heard our prayers. Salvation is on the way. In a season pregnant with hope, the Good News is that love has already been born – and that God has promised that it will be born yet again. Jesus shows up, again and again – in our nativity sets on Christmas morning, and in our lives every single day.
If you miss any of our daily readings, you can find them archived here. (Readings will be added each day.) We hope these readings will help you encounter God this season!