A friend of mine is expecting his first child any day now. I met him a long time ago, when he was an undergraduate and I was in seminary. We each pursued our life’s adventures far and near, losing touch and making contact over the years, until just a few years ago I was pleased to help him and his splendid wife prepare for marriage. Her pregnancy brought them back to Washington this summer, and I have been pleased to visit with them several times. As the due date grew near and I was checking in by email, I expressed my hope that we will see one another soon, writing: I gather you'll be around here over the coming weeks, building your own Nativity scene. Can't wait to see.
Only as I was writing that, did I realize the ramifications of what I was saying. Now, he may in fact be setting up somewhere in his home a little diorama of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, perhaps with a king or camel. It may even be elaborate, but I doubt it requires as much skill and effort as the one our Holy Name men put up in front of the church each year! But that was not what I was talking about.
One day I helped them carry things up to their third-floor apartment, and then they gave me the grand tour. They showed me the room that would be for the baby, and some of the furniture and other items that they were preparing even back in summertime. But even building a crib, or the purchase of what these days pass for swaddling clothes, was not what I had in mind
He and his wife are preparing to welcome the arrival of their child, a nativity that will change them, and moreover, it will change the world. This new relationship will take first place in their lives, and will level demands upon them without articulating a word. The demands of love cannot be resisted, nor can they be resented.
Just as I was impatient for news from my friend, our eagerness for Christmas, the anticipation of Christ’s birth, reveals the particular delight God elicits from us by coming as a tiny child. But we can no sooner turn away from His ongoing requirements once He presents Himself, than parents can from their own child. God who has revealed Himself to us first as a loving Father, now enters our lives as a dependent child.
My friend is reordering his life to make a space for this new-born life, as if building a new home. It is a nativity scene that is not frozen in time, but extends farther than he can plan or even picture. This is what he and his wife is building now for their child, and this is what God gives us an opportunity to do for Jesus at His birth.
God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby – defenseless and in need of our help. He asks for our love; so he makes himself a child. (Pope Benedict XVI)
Without hammer or nail, without statue or figurine, may God help you build a Nativity scene this holy day. Let Christ be born to you and yours, and may he reign over you in His small, simple way. Without a word, he demands only your love; this is the yoke that is easy, and the burden that is light. Behold, He comes. A blessed Christmas to you!