Camp, Retreat, and Conference Center

What we miss at the Manger


It’s that time of the year when nativity scenes start appearing all over the place.  While some forbid them on town squares, they still flourish in churches, shops and homes throughout the world.

The Smithsonian says that St. Francis of Assisi staged the first nativity scene in 1223. The only historical account of Francis’ nativity scene comes from The Life of St. Francis of Assisi by St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan monk born five years before Francis’ death.

According to Bonaventure’s biography, St. Francis got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about “the babe of Bethlehem.” (Francis was supposedly so overcome by emotion that he couldn’t say “Jesus.”)

There are few who haven’t stopped to gaze at the scene of Jesus, Joseph and Mary, shepherds and wise men surrounding the newborn child.  Since Jesus was born in a stable, no doubt you can add the many animals.  The scene doesn’t square with the Biblical account of the birth of Christ.  The shepherds came quickly, so they rightfully belong.  The wise men had a long journey, so ended up visiting Jesus in a home about 2 years later.  Despite the inaccuracy, the scene rightfully brings all the characters relating to Jesus nativity together.  And what a crowd they were.  Jews and Arabs, wise men from the east that many surmise were people of color.

Someone has created the scene, minus the Jews, Arabs, blacks, and refugees who are generally shown.  Did refugees catch your attention?  Remember, Mary and Joseph had to travel from Nazareth because of the taxation, so were only seeking refuge (not permanent accommodation) in Bethlehem – so in essence they were refugees.

They remind us that if you take representatives from various ethnic groups away, only the animals are left.  How many of us have gazed at the nativity scene and missed the mix of cultures and races?  I would guess many of us.

But it shouldn’t surprise us.  When God called Abraham he stated, So your name will no longer be Abram [Exalted Father], but Abraham [Father of Many] because I have made you a father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5). .  Isaiah declared that the Messiah was for all people. Isaiah 49:6  has him proclaiming:  “Now, the Lord says, “You are not just my servant who restores the tribes of Jacob and brings back those in Israel whom I have preserved. I have also made you a light for the nations so that you would save people all over the world.”   There was an old man Simeon who had been waiting for the Messiah.  When he approached Jesus and His parents in the temple he declared“Now, Lord, you are allowing your servant to leave in peace as you promised.  My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people to see.  He is a light that will reveal salvation to the nations and bring glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

Enjoy the blessing of the season.  And next time you view the nativity scene thank God that God’s great gift is to the whole world.  Isaac Watts put it well in the familiar carol, “Joy to the World”.

“He rules the world with truth and grace,

And makes the nations prove

The glories of his righteousness

And wonders of his love

And wonders of his love

And wonders, wonders of His love.”