“Some Children See Him”
Luke 2:8-15 – December 24, 2016
So many houses and apartments are decorated for the season at this time of year. Colorful lights and decorations indoors and out, shining Christmas trees, special dishes and fancy tablecloths. Plus, some families have a Nativity scene in a special place, whether under the Christmas tree or placed in an extra special location. Here at St. Luke’s Church, we have the Nativity scene with some other lovely Christmas decorations, in the narthex of our church.
The Christmas narrative from the Gospel of Luke is so familiar. Mary and Joseph enrolling for a census in Joseph’s ancestral town. Since it was the time of the census, the town was crowded to bursting. Mary was greatly pregnant, and while she was in Bethlehem, labor pains started. She and Joseph found shelter in a stable, and put her newborn baby in a feeding trough, a manger.
This evening, we are going to focus on the shepherds abiding in their fields, and the angel alerting them about the birth of this super-special Baby. Starting at verse 10 of Luke 2: “10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord.’” The shepherds quickly go into town and find the Baby, and worship and adore Him.
Yes, the Nativity scene is a familiar way of retelling this story. But—how did Nativity scenes begin? It was in 1223. “According to St. Bonaventure’s biography, St. Francis of Assisi got permission from Pope Honorious III to set up a manger with hay and two live animals—an ox and an ass—in a cave in the Italian village of Grecio. He then invited the villagers to come gaze upon the scene while he preached about ‘the babe of Bethlehem.’ (Francis was supposedly so overcome by emotion that he couldn’t say ‘Jesus.’)” 
However, that first Nativity was located in Italy, during the 1200’s. The practice of Nativity scenes, pictures and photos has certainly spread from there, all over the world. Do you remember acting in Christmas Nativity scenes? You, or your children? Or grandchildren?
When my children were small, one of the first Christmas decorations I’d take out of the box would be our little Nativity scene. The little statues were all children, and it was intended specifically for the young. I would tell and re-tell the Christmas story again and again. My younger two children would love to play with the figures, spending a good long time with those inexpensive yet meaningful little figures.
My personal Nativity scene, the one my children played with, has white children, every one. I had not thought about this when I bought the set of figures, more than twenty years ago. Even though my children were part of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural school system, we still had an all-white Nativity set.
Let’s hear again the words of the angel to the shepherds, that Christmas night: “the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” Not just the people in Italy, where St. Francis was. Not just the people in Europe, or North America. Good news of great joy for all the people.
Think about Edith, our church’s pen pal from Kampala, Uganda. Almost everyone she sees on a regular day happens to be African, and dark-skinned. She has seen lighter-skinned people before, but most everyone she sees and interacts with is darker-skinned. What would a Nativity scene at Edith’s church in Kampala look like? (I don’t know. I can ask her!)
I love to go to a fair trade store in Evanston, a not-for-profit shop that sells goods from all over the world, called 10,000 Villages. This store has lots of different kinds of Christmas decorations, especially different kinds of Nativity scenes. Nativities from Mexico, South America, all over Africa, India, southeast Asia, and the Middle East.
I bought this Ethiopian Nativity puzzle several years ago from a fair trade shop. I love the way the figures almost come alive, with their bright colors. Is this vibrant Nativity a welcome sight for you, or is it a bit distracting? Perhaps we might be encouraged to meditate on something a little different? Perhaps we can use an alternative, ethnic kind of manger scene, or different- culture picture of the Mother and Child, this year? Certainly something to think about.
Remember the words of the angel of the Lord: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” We can praise God! God did not send good news of great joy to just a few people in the world, or even some of the world’s people. God sent good news of great joy to all the people of the world.
The angel has come to all cultures, all ethnicities, all people, everywhere.
That is not only GOOD news, that is GREAT news. Good news of great joy! We can truly praise God with the angel hosts, saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom God favors!” Alleluia, amen!