Rev. Mona Denton, Westworth United Church, December 24, 2014
Luke 2:1-20, Matthew 2:1-11
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth,and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)
Every church I have served has had a nativity set, or the tradition of creating a nativity tableau through a pageant. In each congregation there has been a story attached to the nativity scene.
In the church I served as a student in the Beaches neighbourhood in Toronto, the nativity was a stained glass creation that sat on a lit, glass-topped table. It had been made for the church by an artist in the congregation. It was beautiful to watch how the light reflected on the glass and caused you to see things in the faces of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus that you might never have noticed, if it were not for the transparent glass.
In one of the rural churches I served right after my ordination, the decision had been made to buy a nativity set when I arrived. This rural congregation had never had one before and there was a debate about whether or not it should be an indoor set or a life-sized roadside nativity on the front lawn of the church. It had been decided that they should wait for the new minister to arrive and be part of the decision which way to go with this important purchase.
I was pretty certain that an outdoor nativity scene would be a little more than the congregation could handle logistically and financially. However, when Peter and I were on a summer vacation, we did stop in at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan, the World’s Largest Christmas Store, and take my picture beside a few life-sized, lit, nativity figures. The rather poor quality paint job and the plastic look of these figurines was enough to convince the church that a tabletop, wooden nativity scene would be the best choice. A beautiful, hand-carved tabletop nativity set was ordered from the Ten Thousand Villages store and this set became much- beloved by the children and adults of the church.
My congregation in Lethbridge had a traditional pageant each year. Adults and children and members of the choir recreated the manger scene through drama and costume. Most memorable was the majestic Magi that would process down the aisle with sparkling gifts to lay them at Jesus’ feet. Somehow the dramatization of the story, made it come to life in a new way for us all.
Deer Lodge United Church created a nativity tableau with the children of the congregation. Each child took a part and shared in a visual way, what God as a child is like for the children in our midst. My personal favorite, was the night when a child who was playing the part of Mary, promptly left her chair by the manger, dropped the doll representing Jesus into his manger bed, and announced to us all that she was “sick of holding the baby Jesus and she wanted to go home!”
Here at Westworth we have journeyed to the manger together too. We too have had the Sunday School tableau; the unfolding of the Christmas story as our youth read and the children formed the scene before us. We even tried a PowerPoint pageant one year, so that the children could see themselves in the story and imagine it in a new way. Lorrie Pismenny created a beautiful nativity set out of shaped fabric that was on display for many years. When the time came for it to be retired, we purchased the tabletop set you see in our chapel.
This nativity set has been used in many Children’s Times, but until this year, its place in our worship has been pretty predictable. This year, there was a surprise and a mystery waiting for us as we set up the nativity scene. We found there was an extra gift, and we have no idea where it came from, or how it made its way into the storage box. The extra gift got me thinking about what this nativity set might have to say to us this year that was different from all the other years we have used it in worship.
This extra gift led me to reflect on how different the nativity scene is to us each year, because of what we bring to it, that we have never brought before. The gift we bring will be determined by the journey that has led us here to this night – the unique joys and sorrows, successes and struggles, the wholeness and the brokenness we have experienced since we last stood before the manger.
Somehow, each year, we find our way here; to this place where we sit in awe of the gift of Jesus the infant – God, incarnate. Whatever we have had to live through to make it here tonight – be it joy-filled or difficult to bear – we are here to pause and wonder at the gift we have been given, and to offer our gifts in return. I’d like to think that that extra gift represents all the gifts we bring to lay before the Christ child tonight. The best of what it is we have to offer – young or old, weak or strong, faith-filled or questioning, lost or found, struggling or secure.
Tonight we have found our way to Bethlehem with the gifts we have to offer and the extra gifts have the power to waken us to God in a new way.
Tonight our story becomes a part of God’s story at the manger. We behold him and dream of the mystery of God with us; we offer our gifts – rare and unique, and then will travel home, each by a different road.