Saint James Anglican Church

Joseph Howe Drive at the Armdale Rotary, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada             


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Advent and Christmas 2005

 

"She gave birth to her first born son and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn." --Luke 2:7 (NRSV)

The wind wanted to shoo us along home after school; but the cold was no competition for the displays of the season. The main street of our town was strung with Christmas lights. Store windows displayed toys, seasonal merchandise, and festive decorations including, of course, the Christmas tree. No matter how cold the weather, Commercial Street at Christmas time was a routine detour on the way home from school. However, there was only one display that really signaled the arrival of Christmas itself. It was the appearance of a large outdoor manger scene on the church grounds. First, a few weeks before Christmas, the manger was put in place, framed with rough wooden beams and filled with straw. The front of the manger was covered with a clear pane of glass. Then, just prior to Christmas Eve, appeared the figures of animals, shepherds, angels, Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child. The Nativity scene remained in place well into the season of Epiphany, long after the merchants had packed away their Christmas displays.

 

The debate over the naming and ownership of symbols can be as heated as apple cider. Is it a Christmas tree or is it a holiday tree? Perhaps it's a case of a rose by any other name. However, The Nativity scene is a symbol that, for Christians, goes to the heart of the matter. Much more ancient than the Christmas tree, the use of a manger in Christmas services probably pre-dates the Middle Ages. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with developing The Nativity scene as an object of popular devotion. The population of the Gospel story surrounds the Divine infant and family. Angels and animals keep company with poverty stricken shepherds from the hills of Judea. Later magi will arrive. The kingdoms of this world really will become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ.

 

Symbols have the power to challenge us. The Nativity scene is no exception. The manger is outside because there is no room inside. It's a stark reality that continues to confront the poor, the homeless, refugees, displaced persons and the vulnerable. Christ in the manger is all of these. Yet the one born on the outside creates an inside for all people in the kingdom of God. The Christmas season provides an opportunity to contemplate the Nativity scene in church, in pageants and drama, on Christmas cards and in carols. May our contemplation make us more aware of the great welcome God extends to us in Christ; and may God create a welcoming heart within us.

 

The Rev. Canon Rod Gillis

Advent & Christmas 2005