This past Sunday at Tapestry I walked our kids, and adults, through a Jesse Tree, discussing how the stories of the Old Testament (and News Testament too) pointed to an understanding of life that led to Jesus and stand as a criticism of the life around us. We put ornaments on the tree and briefly walked through the story the ornament represents and how it tells us about the biblical understanding of the purpose and meaning of our daily experience.
Our stories, traditions, and rituals remind us of the values that we believe are truly important and thereby comment, and sometimes judge, the world in which we live and how we live in it.
Far too often instead of understanding the gospel as good news of the Kingdom of Jesus that sets us free and also establishes a plumb line that shows a better way and sometimes judges, we turn faith into sentimentality, which produces warm feelings but changes nothing.
Nativities and the Christmas story as prime examples of this. When we take the story seriously it makes us question the world around us. How do we respond to God choosing to come as a weak and needy baby? What changes in us and our society when we realize that there was no room for the Holy Family? What should be different in our society when it was the weak and foreigners who recognized and worshipped the Christ Child? How do we respond when we see in the Christmas story that new life was sacrificed in an attempt for the powerful to maintain their kingdom?
But instead, we often just see a sweet, bucolic display of a family as we drink hot chocolate by the glow of the Christmas tree. Our nativities should shake us to our core because when we display them, we are exhibiting a scene that sets a different standard.
This year there is a great example of this in Manger Square in Bethlehem. Most of the festivities of Christmas in Bethlehem have been cancelled this year because of the conflict between Israel and Hamas. By the merry making may have been canceled the religious aspect of the celebration has not – in fact, many churches in Bethlehem have experienced significantly higher attendance than normal. In the midst of Manger Square is just one display this year and it is a Nativity that critiques the current situation. It shows the Holy Family in the midst of rubble. It says that the current situation is not the way of Jesus, another way is possible because of what actually began when the Holy Family could find no room and our Savior was born and placed in a trough.
i placed a video at the top of this post a video of the creche in Manger Square.