Around the 2000s there was something of a craze for ‘living nativity’ scenes. They were organised by schools and colleges, places of attraction and at some churches. There was even a saying going around some communities that enjoyed a little harmless humour, that: “We’re all sorted on who plays which part… but we’re stuck when it comes to the wise men!”
It seems a strange project to make a living nativity, perhaps especially for the more traditional among us. We are used to seeing a still scene, frozen in time, decked with beautiful figurines, warm hay in the stalls and gentle light coming from the rafters. But a living nativity scene is, if we let it be, food for thought. Maybe it can even be a help in our spiritual lives.
You see, that nativity scene IS living. It is not frozen in time. The images we see on postcards and at our churches (here at Mount Saint Joseph Abbey , too, if you would like to come and see), are reminders of a real happening, a truth that played out over 2000 years ago. It is a truth that sent shockwaves down the centuries, even to today. In this sense, the nativity scene still lives; it is happening now.
How can that be, that the nativity scene is happening now?
Christ came into this world for our salvation. And that process is still playing out across the world, in our hearts. His shelter was a stable, his cradle a stall. Our poor and lowly footprint was shared by God. And so, he lives inside our poverty, deep inside our human condition, each and every day, from then until now, and beyond.
How many of us do not recognise God in those people, those communities, that are wrapped in poverty? How many of us ignore Jesus because we turn away from the very place where he chooses to reside? When we turn to that crib of poverty, that darkness in the longing hearts of our neighbour, and see Christ, then he is being born into those hearts, and into our own, and the Kingdom of God is being built.
When we recognise our own identity, too, as mangers for the presence of God, then we are on a surer road to Him. Small and humble as we are, through baptism we become the receptors of God’s will, of his Word and his love, and in this place of poverty is grown the greatest and most incredible wealth. Do we act like we are the poor, broken vessels of our loving God, or do we lord it over others, acting as the gatekeepers of some special secret: less a lowly manger and more a gilded throne?
We know how Christ came into the world, and through this revelation we can develop our own road to him. We may use the nativity scene, not as a relic of the past, but as a thermostat for our own spiritual climate, as we point towards the future.
The living nativity, then, is far from a gimmick. Sure, the way we act it out may not be a Shakespeare production: but at the heart of the idea is that we are living that scene, by proxy, two thousand years after it happened.
At some point today, it may be useful to imagine ourselves as part of that nativity scene. Let us place ourselves inside the Gospel, living what happened as though we were there. As we read the Gospel account of the birth of Jesus, what is it that catches our eye? What single word or phrase? And, as we cast our eye over that scene, let us bear in mind that the nativity is a kind of allegory for our lives, too. In what ways can we associate with that?
Dom Malachy and the community of Mount Saint Joseph Abbey would like to wish you a very happy Christmas 2022, and the peace of God in your hearts.