A Contemporary Nativity Scene

A few years ago, the outdoor nativity scene at the Vatican evoked some startling responses. Some people said it was strange and certainly not inspiring; others called it grotesque, ugly—all comments that belittled and mocked the scene:

“Like a magically magnified set of Playmobil figurines or more humble clothespin dolls, the figures in this year’s display are simple and clear—bodies made of columns, with spheres for their heads. There are bright colors, rough textures and whimsical additions: an astronaut, come to bring a moon rock to the Christ child, a centurion called to conversion, a neon light hovering like the mountains over Bethlehem, and a towering angel whose near-translucence allows light through the ribs of its body and its tower-like wings” (Brian Flanagan, National Catholic Reporter, December 21, 2021).

As I reflected on the scene, I wondered: How do I perceive—look at and respond to people, things, places and events? What do I see on first glimpse—such as a first look at the Vatican nativity scene? What difference does it make when I give a “second look”—when I linger with the experience, when I bring Christ’s heart and light to my interpretation and response? What manifestation of God might I then be given?

Christmas, a feast of LIGHT, calls us to see what the Light, Christ, makes visible in our daily lives. When light stays with us long enough, we can take a second look to see what we might have missed at first. When light is dim, we strain to see or we rest and let feelings and insights emerge out of the shadows or darkness. When we observe through Christ’s light, we can receive gifts of revelations—usually unexpected and revealed more fully as we give them attention.

An unsettling nativity scene can move us to “look again”—at the figures and at life around us. We might ask ourselves:

  • How might the person I’m talking with be Christ for me as I hear her hopes and joys, fears and pains? Do I truly see and hear her? Am I looking into her eyes? Am I letting her into my heart?
  • How might I see people, things, events as different and unique rather than jumping to conclusions and labeling them with attitudes and words that disrespect and hinder their potential?
  • What am I doing to help me see better from God’s point of view—to see God’s “big picture”? How are my quiet, study, prayer, conversations and service opening my eyes to what God wants to show me?
  • If I were creating a contemporary nativity scene, who and what would I include to show that Jesus Christ came for all and for all time? Would I include what I consider troublesome rather than only what I experience as comfortable and nurturing? Would I include myself? What gifts would the participants bring?

Christ continues to come into our world. During this Christmas season, each of us might ask ourselves: “How open am I to recognize and respond to Christ who shows himself in various colors, textures and forms today—to me, to others around our earth?”

Mary Reuter, OSB

Photo: The Christmas crib that sits inside our Gathering Place, taken by Sister Karen Rose