What we often refer to as “The Christmas Story” is a combination of stories from different sources. You probably already new that. Some are biblical, some are tradition. The naming of the magi, for instance, is a tradition. The story from Matthew’s gospel doesn’t name them, but over the centuries we’ve come to know them as Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. There are other names, too, depending on the tradition. The bible doesn’t specifically say there was only three, either, we assume that from the three gifts. There are many stories that explore the idea that there might have been more.
We don’t know how many shepherds showed up, either. Even our view of the stable, full of traditional and not-so-traditional animals is more about tradition than the story itself. And then there’s that little boy with the drum.
I don’t think any of that’s a bad thing if the tradition is meaningful and gives us more experience of the story. It can draw us in and invite an insight into how the story is relevant to our life and faith.
That’s the great thing about the manger scene or creche that many people and churches have out at Christmas. It creates a little tableau that represents not just one story but many. It’s easy to just look at it and think “isn’t that a pretty pastoral scene.” Because it is. But there’s so much more to it, so much more that we could wonder about. Here’s a couple of thoughts about that.
First, try picking up each piece and wondering how they would tell the story. Mary and Joseph, of course, there’s some story in the bible, but you might wonder about how they met or what life was like for them. You might wonder how their stories might go if they were being told today. Especially in a year like this has been.
How about the shepherds? Again, we have a bit of their story, but there must be more that we could imagine. The magi, too, their story is even more sparse, less detailed. Pick up a figure and wonder where they’re from, wonder why these gifts were chosen or wonder at the faith they must have had to follow a sign that they interpreted to mean a prophecy was being fulfilled. What were they thinking?
Go ahead and try it. Pick up a figure, maybe learn a little more about them, if you can, and then wonder about how they got to be here, in this particular story. And don’t forget to wonder about where they’ll go next.
That’s the second thing. Every year, we get the box out, we unpack the figures and arrange them into the scene of that night and then, when Christmas is “done,” we pack them all up again in their box and put them back on the shelf. We put them away as if their story was over.
It’s not. They’re not just statues. They’re alive. Everyone in the story had lives that went on long after this one night. Lives that were lived one day at a time, beginning the very next day. Just like ours. Maybe they all went back to their regular jobs. But their lives were changed, just as Mary and Joseph’s lives were changed by the new life they welcomed into theirs. Love is in the world, not just this one night, in this one scene, in this one story, but everyday. You can’t keep that in a box.