A couple of Christmases ago, I was gifted with a perfect sermon illustration at the church where I happened to be preaching on Christmas Day. As usual the nativity set had been put out under the Christmas tree, only I noticed before the service that baby Jesus seemed to be missing (along with several other characters that had presumably disappeared over the years, or perhaps by now they had found room at the inn). Cue a talk about Jesus being missing from Christmas and the need to find the Christchild amidst the tinsel, lights and froth of the season.
Over the years our family has owned a number of nativity sets, usually fairly non-conventional. Many years ago we had an African nativity and more recently my father gave us a cross stitch set. Our present nativity was bought in the Philippines three years ago at a handicraft fair in the Greenhills shopping centre in Manila and it is beautifully handcarved and handturned.
In the Philippines the nativity scene, or Belen (from the Spanish word for Bethlehem) is an essential feature of churches, shopping centres, offices and homes, sometimes done on an epic scale, with lifesize figures and flashing lights. Ours is a much simpler Belen, with simple, abstract characters carved out of stained but unpainted wood. But it is a typically Filipino Belen, with the scene framed by palm trees and a five pointed star (in the Philippines the Bethlehem star is always five pointed) ‘shining’ above the stable.
This year we will not be at home to enjoy our Belen. But that doesn’t mean that it will be forgotten. I’m lending it to the church with the incomplete nativity set, so this year Jesus will no longer be missing, but at the heart of the Christmas celebration.