We’ve got a good collection of nativity scenes in my house. Each child has their own one, which they put up each year on advent Sunday. Each nativity scene is different. We have one carved in olive wood from Bethlehem, one made from painted wood in Sri Lanka, and one made from playmobil. Maybe because they are so readily available, we never seem to make our own. Funny really, because you can’t buy an Easter garden in the shops, and lots of people seem to make those at home.
Have a wander around an outdoor space near you, maybe your garden, or a churchyard. Maybe a park on the school run, or a woodland where you walk the dogs. What loose parts are hanging around in that space? Do any of them look like they might lend themselves to becoming a stable, or a nativity character?
You don’t have to go for formal realistic sculpture here. Representation of a nativity set is fine. Some loose bark balanced against a rock might make a stable. You could use sticks for Mary and Joseph, and a tiny stick for baby Jesus, lying in a moss covered manger. Dry leaves could become cloaks for wise men. Maybe some fluffy feathers could become sheep for the twig shepherds?
You already have a good idea in your head of what a nativity scene looks like. You know the accounts in the bible, augmented somewhat with other random nativity play characters. (Anyone else thinking of a donkey? Yes, me too, but no biblical accounts mention a donkey. I’ll bet it was there though.) Some people are more waiter-planners than others, who are more likely to seemingly jump straight into the doing, but everyone shares that moment when what is in their head is not yet a reality. As your eyes glance around the area you’re in, your mind is matching up what you see out there with what you see in your mind’s eye. Waiting, if you like, for the two to match up. This is useful waiting for us to practice. As we hold in our minds that image of Jesus, we can look at our lives, and keep watch for when the two images match up.
Lord, as I keep your image in my mind, the person of Jesus, help me to keep watch for when my life matches up with that image. Amen.
Creating a nativity scene from scratch is a good way on meditating on the story and circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. It’s all too easy to dress it up and whitewash it, making it all neat and tidy. Working with loose parts and found natural objects uncouples it from this, literally grounding you in the reality of God born into our real muddy, messy, Earth. A nativity scene made of objects we rarely see through a ‘religious’ lens, casts new light on that familiar story, reminding use quite how shocking a story it is.
Lord, as we get our hands dirty, digging and poking at the soil, collecting and balancing sticks, stones, and other found objects, we remember you, in your glorious humanity, being born as one of us, walking on this very earth. Amen.
This post was an extract from Wild Advent: Discovering God Through Creation by Rachel Summers (Kevin Mayhew, 2017), 92 pages, £7.99. Used here by permission of the publisher.