Assemble: Word 3, Advent 1

One of the best parts of Christmas at my house is getting out the nativity sets.

When I was a newlywed–with no children–I decided that I was going to be a collector of international nativities. My husband and I are both kind of minimalists in the home decor department. We don’t do knick knacks, we think less is more, and anything that has to be dusted is probably more trouble than it’s worth. However, I felt like nativity sets were the perfect thing for me to start gathering. They would only be out once a year, and they would tell a great story–not just the Christmas story, but the story of our family, and all the places we’d been.

So I bought a nativity set in Mexico. Then I bought one in Africa.

And then I had children and God laughed and laughed at my ideas of “collecting.” Because when babies happen, shit gets broken, and quick. I don’t care how carefully you place baby Jesus in bubble wrap, how high up you put those shepherds, how well you create a buffer between baby hands and wise men… It’s all coming down. It will be in little pieces before you know it. The angel’s head chewed off, the sheep shattered at your feet, perhaps a hand-carved wooden image of Mary, reduced to splinters.

Over the years, church folks have given me various nativities–from the cheap porcelain kind to the knit finger puppet kind to the tiny vignette you get at Ten Thousand Villages. So I guess I can still say I’m a collector–though not a single one of my “sets” is still a whole unit. With the small child factor, the dog factor, and the I-move-alot factor, those parts and pieces get lost and broken. So rather than a collection of international displays, what I actually have is more of a melting pot situation.

My kids fill in the blanks though… With Fisher Price Little People, with Buzz Lightyear, with the occasional Barbie or Ninja Turtle. All over the house, we have various assemblies of the faithful; come to gaze upon whichever miracle baby Jesus escaped the chaos last year and made it, in tact, back to the manger for another round.

Some of our hodgepodge scenes are without shelter; some are in a wooden stable that I bought at Goodwill because it looked like one my grandmother used to have; some are in the Fisher Price barn, which my kids are now too old for, but which they haul from the closet with religious fervor every year, the first week of Advent.

All those parts and pieces tell a story. The story of all the exciting places we used to go, back before we had kids to break things, and keep us home, and spend all our money on Ninja Turtles… But more to the point, they tell the story of this Body of Christ; gathered in, again, to hear of this miracle that might be born among us. It tells how we’ve all got a part to play, a word to contribute, a story that is uniquely our own but, somehow, belonging to the whole assembly.


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