The Power of the Nativity
Even as a small child, I was fascinated with the nativity scenes that graced our home, church, and community. My parents made a large one that stood in the corner of our living room. With hand-painted ceramic figures and a manger filled with pine needles, it was topped with wooden shingles salvaged from a local church that had burned down not long before. It seemed to me like a life-size dollhouse and each year I relished removing the packing paper from each piece. My brother and I would race to see who would unwrap the baby Jesus, the holy grail of nativity set-up. Then, throughout the Christmas season, that manger scene was my playground as I re-arranged pieces, imagined Mary and Joseph taking baby Jesus grocery shopping, and pondered how the Wise Men could walk so far without shoes. From the stately kings to the lowly shepherd, the characters represented by those painted figures shared their stories with me in a way that, when combined with hearing and then reading of the Gospel stories, formed my understanding of God-made-flesh, the power of a newborn to bring light and life to a world in need of hope.
As youth workers, we walk daily with a whole cast of characters not unlike those found in each manger scene we encounter. Our vocation invites us to plan and to lead, to discipline and to teach, to guide and to keep watch. Conversations with parents, recruiting Sunday school teachers, attending a student’s basketball game – our days swing from the academic to existential from moment to moment. And all the while we’re doing our best to keep the main thing the main thing… making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. When our teens are apathetic about attending Sunday school or Bible study because “Like, I’ve read this Bible verse three times and I just don’t get it – how does this apply to me?” Trust in those moments that we have been called to holy work, and that just as God equipped Mary to bear the Prince of Peace, as God called the Magi to follow a star and pay homage to a babe in a cattle stall, we too are equipped for the task at hand. Walk with me this week as we remember how each character in the story of the coming of Emmanuel, God with us, plays a part in our daily lives as shepherds of the flock, followers of the star, messengers of the glad tidings and great joy.
For a child has been born for us,
A son given to us;
Authority rests upon his shoulders;
And he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
What facet of ministry with youth and families is most challenging for you?
Which “actor” in the Nativity story first draws your attention when you see a manger scene or read the story in the Bible, and why? What would you most like to know or discover about them?
Tomorrow: Joseph – the forgotten father