Thursday, December 19, 2013

Rethinking Nativity Scenes?

In case you haven't heard, nativity scenes aren't accurate. But at least I learned it incrementally. In my Christian grade school, I learned that the original Christmas didn't take place during the winter and that the wise men weren't there when Jesus was a newborn. The president of my undergrad believes Jesus's birth took place in a cave, and I recently was tipped to this article, which flies into the face of almost everything else about nativity scenes, some Christmas pageants and the lyrics of several Christmas carols.

So there were no wise men or stable, and the animals may have been only present intermittently. But I'm not going to keep my toddlers from playing with their newly-given (thanks, Memaw and Gipa!) nativity set from Fisher Price. Because there are some things that nativity sets get right:

Jesus was born in a humble place. A peasant home that included the stench of animals. He was laid in a container where animal food is delivered. You can keep the stable. The significance of Jesus's birth, despite its lowly setting, transcended culture, political status and income level. Keep the "three kings." Jesus's birth was overseen and celebrated by angels. Keep the singing angel above the non-existent stable.

An historically accurate nativity seen would look a bit different, much less an historically accurate Christmas pageant. Learning about the true story of Christmas as read in the Scriptures should challenge us time and time again to see how much tradition and otherwise has spilled into what we see as Truth.

At the same time, the secondary historical details aren't as important as the truthful symbolism of the transcendent gospel. Even if the typical nativity scene was historically accurate, should we recall or boycott the international nativity scenes that don't give nods to secondary details of historical accuracy yet fully convey the symbolism of the gospel?