The Origin of Advent Customs
A few years ago, my mom began cleaning out her house. She was newly retired, sick of looking at things, and wanted to clear some of the clutter. Part of her process in accomplishing this task was to encourage (I use that term loosely) my sister and me to take the things we might eventually want. My sister was given the mouse advent calendar that we all knew she loved, but my mom wasn’t sure what Christmas item I would want. I didn’t even have to think about it. The one thing I wanted was the hand painted Precious Moments nativity.
It seems like nativities have been a part of the Christmas tradition since the birth of Christ, but that’s not the case. Our custom of recreating the scene at the birth of Christ actually began with Saint Francis (yes, the animal loving one) in 1223. The first nativity scene was a living nativity and didn’t look at all like ours today. In fact, it was just a manger, some hay, an ox, and a donkey. Francis invited people to come and gaze up on the scene as he told the story of Jesus’ birth. In true clergy fashion, other pastors stole this idea of giving people a visual, and the tradition evolved into what it is today.
My confession is that I have a fascination with nativity scenes. I especially love the ones that represent other cultures worshiping the baby Jesus. My love might be related to an understanding that Jesus’ love is for everyone, but my two VeggieTales sets would suggest that I enjoy watching God enter into our everyday reality. At the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about. We spend advent preparing for the birth of Christ, not because Jesus was a miracle God baby, but because through the incarnation God chose to come down and enter into our reality. The birth of Christ is not about God’s power and might. Instead, it points to His willingness to become humble for our sake.
As we prepare for Christmas, let us not become consumed with the usual things that don’t really matter. Instead, let us focus on welcoming God into our lives. May the nativities in our lives not just be inflatable lawn décor, but serve as a true reminder of how much God loves us. Let that tiny baby laying in a feedbox remind us of the sacrifice made through God’s unending love. May you and your families feel God’s blessing this Christmas and in the year to come! Pastor Kristen