“The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated… Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate.” (Pope Benedict XVI, SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS, 64)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Home Nativity Scene

Let thy thoughts be upon the precepts of God, and meditate continually on his commandments: and he will give thee a heart, and the desire of wisdom shall be given to thee. (Wis 6:37)

Ah, yes. Nothing marks the approach of Christmas like the home Nativity scene. This little addition to the home is the most popular and most explicit image of the event we celebrate. What is key, though, in this season of Advent, is not to write off the centuries-old tradition as a mere decoration to enhance the jolly tiding, but to spend time gazing on this scene. Use it for Advent meditation to invite the Baby Jesus into your home and heart. That's it's true purpose.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets this. As in years past, I took an interested role in the Nativity display this year. We have a little hearth grill in our dinette, a grill that's never been used for its intended purpose. This happens to be one of those vacuum spots in the home. I think all homes have these spots located in various places. Although we use the space to house fruit bowls and potato baskets, it inevitably vacuums in all those things that we don't want to put away. Junk mail, cell phones, bills to pay, tools from the garage, prayer cards, recipe books, various pieces from toy sets, refrigerator magnets, etc.

Come Advent, we make it our Nativity location. It has a handy overhead light, and it really stands out as we eat our meals, particularly those meals lighted by the Advent candles. It also keeps the figurines out of reach of the really young ones. The only problem is, old habits die hard.

This year, I took on the Nativity setting on my own. I carefully relocated the potatoes, onions, and the huge fruit platter. All those alien objects also were given a new home. Then the trusty Costco Nativity set was laid out on our added drop cloth and with a homemade backdrop. I resolved to make it a top priority to keep this scene clear in order to facilitate unobscured meditation.

Well, my resolve was not up to the task. And, hey, I have to admit, when we got into the major task of stocking our pantry with yummy homemade Christmas treats (some of which did get sampled early for quality control), even I, Mr. Resolve, resorted to using the hearth grill to gain the needed counter space, being too lazy to clean as we go.

That's okay, I told myself. A momentary laps won't do too much damage. I re-resolved myself. I re-instructed the family. This was to be holy ground, and we shan't desecrate it with profane objects like grocery coupons!
After repeated requests and relocations, I came into the dinette to see tomatoes, fresh from, of all places, Costco, removed from their box and set neatly upon a platter, right there with our other Costco product. Well, no problem. Just pick up the platter, move it, and move on. Hours later, the tomatoes are back, this time without the platter.

Resolve is officially spent. In fact, I think it is easier to change the story than it is to keep foreign objects out of the Nativity scene. So I've decided to just go with it.

So with some slight editing, my favorite hymn, one of the first to rise out of the shadows of Cromwell's England (can you believe they banned Christmas Carols? Those Calvinists were serious killjoys) will need some slight editing.

While farmers watched
their crops by night
All seated on the ground
The angel of the Lord came down
And glory shone around

"Fear not," said he,
For trembling
Had seized their tomato-stained hands
"Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all of man,"

"To you in David's
Farm this day
Is born of David's line
The Savior who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign."

"The heavenly Babe
You there shall find
Near ripe tomatoes displayed
And meanly wrapped in swathing bands
And in a havestbasket laid"

Thus spake the seraph,
And forthwith
Appeared among the vines
Of angels praising God, who thus
On gaspacho they did dine

"All glory be to
God on high
And to the earth be peace;
Ketchup henceforth from heaven to men
Begin and never cease!"

I wonder what Cromwell would think of that one? Not that it matters. He never had to worry about keeping a manger scene pristine, that despot.

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