What kind of nativity set appeals to your view of Christmas? Really blog manager, Carla Foote, shares her favorites.
Baby Jesus Wrapped in a Maasai Blanket
By Carla Foote
When we got married, my mother-in-law gave us a lovely porcelain nativity set for our first Christmas. I still have this set, and put it out each year. After a few years, I also bought a small wooden nativity that is carved from olive wood from the Holy Land.
Then, once we had kids, my mom and I sewed a nativity set with stuffed cloth figures from a kit, so the kids could play with the figures.
The representations of Jesus’ birth have morphed with the circumstances of my life. To me, the important part of putting out a nativity is remembering the significance of Jesus’ coming into our world. None of our nativities are designed to be “accurate” in terms of how that first Christmas looked.
Over the years, I have become interested in how different cultures interpret Jesus’ birth story and represent it in nativity scenes. There was a Mennonite fair trade store near our home that had a variety of nativities from different countries. One year my husband gifted me a Laotian nativity set – where the shelter for the holy family is an elevated hut (to stay dry above flood waters) with space for the animals (such as water buffalo) under the hut. Jesus is in a cradle hung from the rafters.
I have a Mexican nativity that my daughter got for me when she lived in Mexico for a year. My Peruvian friend gave me a small nativity that can hang on my Christmas tree or be set on a table. I have a variety of other Latin American and Native American representations.
My most recent purchase was a Kenyan nativity set. I was in Kenya several years ago teaching at an editorial course for Christian publishers. Local artisans set up their wares at our conference center during lunch break. The bright colors and tall figures of my Kenyan nativity remind me of the Maasai tribe in a village we visited. The set was also easy to transport home, since the figures all fold into a shelter that is both display and box.
Nativities from around the world remind me that Jesus came for all. Yes, he was born in a particular time and place and culture, per the prophecies. But we see from beginning to end, God’s design was that the gift of relationship with God is for all—for every tribe and people group.
In Genesis we hear God’s promise to Abraham, that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:3). In John’s vision described in Revelation 7:9 we see that every tribe and nation is represented in worshipping God: There before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.
As we move through advent to Christmas, to celebrate the miracle that Jesus came for all, may our eyes be opened to a richer experience of God with us. To know that “us” is all humanity - including those who may worship and celebrate in ways very different from our particular cultural experience. May we practice for that day foreshadowed in Revelation, when our voice will be just one of many varied voices worshipping God.
Carla Foote is the Really blog manager. She also writes and edits for other clients through Fine Print Editorial. When she isn't at her computer working, she enjoys walking and gardening. She serves on the board of Magazine Training International, equipping Christian communicators around the world to share the Good News in their own context. In writing this blog, she learned the correct spelling of “Maasai” which we more commonly see as “Masai.” The latter spelling was used by the British, but the tribal name Maasai is for the people who speak the Maa language.