The Nativity scene with the manger and all the ceramic figures including Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and the shepherds is tucked away in a box somewhere, likely at my mom’s house in Ohio with some of my other stuff I didn’t bring to Arizona when I moved to the Valley nearly seven years ago.
The Nativity is likely from the 1950s or 60s, once belonging to my maternal grandparents, Dan and Anna Mae Angel, who moved from Kentucky to Ohio following the Great Depression to find work as my grandfather later landed a job at Dayton Tire & Rubber, where he worked for nearly 30 years. I still remember seeing the Nativity on one of the shelves in their living room during the Christmas season when I was little and looking at the robed and bearded figures and the baby lying in a manger surrounded by animals because there was no room for them at the Inn. My grandma told me so, so I knew it had to be true.
My mom had purchased the Nativity scene at a local department store. Years later, after my grandparents had passed, I somehow wound up with the wooden scene that once had a small bulb on the back of the small wooden stall. The bulb shined a light on the small crowd inside the manger who played the key roles in the story of Jesus’ birth, the true story of Christmas, an event that paved the way for a story in the Bible (the second chapter in the book of Luke) many of us now hear during sermons on Christmas Eve.
The Nativity scene is something I appreciate having, a connection to a much younger and simpler time in my life when our extended family would gather at grandma and grandpa’s house in inner-city Dayton the evening of Christmas Day. The cousins would spend time sitting around the fireplace in the basement, eating home-cooked food and dried apples and drinking 7-Up floats with ice cream that were poured from small glass returnable bottles then. The adults were upstairs a world away but within yelling distance if we needed them. Nobody was in a hurry to go home or seemed to be in a hurry period. We all had time to sit and enjoy each other’s company after leisurely opening our Christmas presents at home earlier in the day. It followed our Christmas shopping in the days after Thanksgiving when we found time to sit on Santa’s lap at our local department store, tell him our requests and have our pictures taken with him without having to wait until the last minute to do all those things as seems to be the case these days.
On Saturday, members of an Mesa church are asking people to possibly do the same: Slow down around the holidays to remember the real reason for the season.
Instead of being tucked away in a box, the story of Christ’s birth will come to life from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 15, as about 50 members of Pilgrim Lutheran Church, 3257 E. University Drive, enact the Living Nativity for the third straight year.
The story will begin to unfold with Joseph and Mary arriving in Bethlehem only to find there is no room for them at the Inn. As the Virgin Mary is “great with child,” (they didn’t say “pregnant” in those days) and about ready to give birth, Joseph (played by church member Jim Harris), will plead with the Innkeeper to at least let them stay in the stable behind the Inn amid animals akin to a barnyard of sheep and who knows what else.
Mary, played by church member Jennifer Myers, will hold the Baby Jesus for the world to see, well, at least 200 people expected to attend the Living Nativity scene.
Those in attendance also will hear the Governor of Syria, Caesar Augustus cry out the decree that all the world should be taxed. Many of us will feel that pain around April 15, but let’s not think about that now, and focus instead on the joys and blessings the holiday season has to offer instead.
Pastor Brady Coleman, who has served at Pilgrim Lutheran for the last 12 years, hopes to take the people back to the time of Jesus’ birth to see the sacrifices Joseph and Mary made during their journey.
“It’s pretty well done,” said Larry Waterstradt, outreach chairman for Pilgrim Lutheran who oversees the Living Nativity. “We’re asking for people to place themselves in 3rd Century B.C. when Jesus’ birth happened. We keep things moving, and it’s mostly done through narration, but there will be speaking parts from people in the Nativity.”
The Living Nativity will have six different stations for people to see and hear the speaking parts of Joseph, the Innkeeper, Caesar Augustus and later the shepherds and the three Wise Men who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh to Baby Jesus.
To better get the story out, Pilgrim Lutheran will not feature live animals in the manger or a live baby for that matter as animals tend to be temperamental and the cooler temperatures could affect a baby. A doll will be used for the Baby Jesus instead.
Afterward, the church will serve refreshments inside its social center, further giving attendees an opportunity to talk to those who were part of the Living Nativity and to learn more about the church.
Pilgrim Lutheran, which has about 700 members, initiated the Living Nativity to let people in the community know there’s an active church in the neighborhood, but most importantly, tell the story of the birth of Christ, Coleman said.
“The first year we did the Living Nativity as a test run, and it was attended by about 200 people,” Coleman said. “We only do this for one day, but have been thinking about extending it for more days. It’s been a blessing. We want to bring people to our campus, let them know we exist in the community and offer services. But, we want people to know the real meaning of Christmas is Jesus’ birth and the blessings God gives us through Christ.”
And even though part of my blessings are tucked away in a box for now, unlike those of the folks at Pilgrim Lutheran who will bring a blessing to life on Saturday, I’m glad to say I also carry those blessings in my heart, memories of what’s really important from a simpler time that always seem to emerge, especially around Christmastime.
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