Further Meaning of Christmas

Our home nativity display has expanded over the years in surprising ways.  We began with a colorful set of the basic figures, received as a gift the first Christmas after we were married, almost 20 years ago now.  Later I purchased a stable made of wood as a background for those figures when I happened to see one just the right size in a religious goods store.  Our children’s school art projects brought us decorated pine cone trees as gifts.  More recently, we received several wood angels, carved and painted in a folk art style, from friends out of town, a different one each year made by the same artist.

I don’t remember exactly when I started adding these items around the stable.  Eventually, a statue of St. Nicholas that I found in a secondhand store joined the scene, as did some miniature nutcrackers. (The Nutcracker ballet is a beloved holiday tradition in our family.) It’s been a very organic process.

Listening to the readings last Sunday on the feast of the Holy Family and contemplating the remembrance today of the Holy Innocents makes me want to add some other presence to this display.  The sweetness and joy of the savior’s birth quickly gave way to fear and danger.  Perhaps some soldiers should lurk off to the side?

Matthew’s Gospel tells us that Joseph, Mary and Jesus fled to Egypt because of the threat of King Herod, an arduous journey that would have taken several weeks.  In the wake of their successful escape, realizing the magi had tricked him, Herod orders the killing of all boys under two years old in and around Bethlehem.  Such events contrast sharply with the shepherds and heavenly host praising God we heard about only a few days ago.

Besides providing time to fully celebrate the feast of the incarnation, the 12 days of Christmas also prompt us to reflect further on its meaning.  Lest we are tempted to sentimentalize the savior’s birth, scripture reminds us that the Holy Family’s early life together was comparable to that of refugees today.

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