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Friday, December 7, 2012

On Empty Mangers: The Progressive Nativity

 Eusebius (Guillaume Piolle). (Own work)
 [GFDL ( or
CC-BY-3.0 (],
 via Wikimedia Commons
My family can attest to the fact that I can get quite cranky about the placing of babies in mangers before they've been born. I mean, I get it: We all have the image of a complete nativity scene burnt in our consciousnesses. Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepherds, wise men, angel, animals...they were all there at once right?  They all belong in the standard Christmas scene, preferably prominently displayed upon the mantle the day after Thanksgiving.

Right?  Call me a liturgy Nazi, (you won't be the first), but today is December 7 and we are in Advent, not Christmas.  We will have twelve full days of Christmas, but this isn't one of them.  The thing is, this season is all about anticipating and preparing for his birth (and his coming into our hearts and his second coming...but that is different post).  In our liturgical drama, he hasn't been born yet.  We are preparing ourselves for his arrival(s).

So it really doesn't make much sense for him to be tucked, however lovingly, into the manger right now, does it?

I won't come into your home and steal your Baby Jesus away (really, I promise)...but might I impose upon you to consider tucking him away in a special place until Christmas Eve?  Might I encourage you to take some time to long for his presence? To build some anticipation? To seek after him and learn what it is to be watchful?

The progressive nativity, in which the scene gradually unfolds and changes over time to fit our present place in the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany drama, is gaining in popularity these days.  I think this is a good thing, and is a sign that traditional church year observance is gaining in appreciation.

 Eusebius (Guillaume Piolle). (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Right now, Mary is the only figure in our creche.  (Well, actually, I lied.  there is a donkey out.)  Next to her burns a small votive candle, "Mary's candle."  Jesus is present with us in Advent, but not yet in the flesh.  Mary is carrying Our Lord under her blessed heart.  We are looking forward to his birth.  We cannot hardly wait.  What a gift he is; what a priceless gift.  When he arrives, the Baby Jesus figure will be placed in our creche and there will be no more need for the votive. Jesus, the light of the world, will be in our midst.

God bless the makers of creches with removable babies.  Seriously, I love that. I would bake them all Christmas cookies if I could.  (Assuming that they are not all Chinese Buddhists or something...well, maybe even then.  Who says Buddhists don't like Christmas cookies?  But, I'm getting off track here.)

As time goes on, additional figures will be added to our nativity scene.  The shepherds will appear on a distant table across the room.  After the birth of our Lord, they will arrive at his cradle.  The Magi aren't even in the picture yet.

We do have a large "static" nativity that is all one piece.  There is no removing the Baby from that one, so I wrap him up in gold paper like the gift that he is.  He gets unwrapped on Christmas Eve.  Okay, I'm more than a little nutty, but you already knew that.

It's pretty difficult to live Advent in our modern culture.  It just isn't done by many people.  The little things, though, we have control over. There are little things that we can do to allow the story to gradually unfold.

Just a thought, from the liturgy Nazi.


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  1. I am with you all the way. We have a whole town set up, but the stable only has the manger and animals. I have figurines of Joseph and Mary on a donkey that travel throughout the house until Christmas Eve. Christmas night we put the shepards by the manger and then move them to the towns people. After The Babe is born our wise men travel the house until Epiphany. I have even thought about setting up the town a couple pieces at a time. The last couple of years I have decided to decorate a little at a time too. And we don't decorate the tree until Gaudete Sunday. And I agree that it is difficult to have a holy Advent season in these days and times but it is the details of our homes that we can control and truly live the season.

  2. Oh my.

    I've never thought about this concept. Thank you so much for your post. I take such delight in our advent wreath on the dining table, and lighting a candle to participate in Advent... yet have never considered leaving the Baby Jesus out from the Nativity scene.

    (this is me - smaaaaking my forehead - (sigh) )

    Thank you, you dear liturgy Nazi! ;-)

  3. I totally agree. We don't put Jesus in the creche until Christmas. I was given a manger scene from a family member where Mary is holding baby Jesus, that is my exception. You're right, it is hard to do Advent in this modern world.

  4. I *really* want to do this, but my son (age 7) is horrified by the thought of withholding baby Jesus. He's super organized and wants all the pieces where they "should" be. It was quite a task to even wrench the 3 kings away from the stable and have them traveling on the other side of the room until the Epiphany. Next year I'm going to pitch keeping baby Jesus out until Christmas again. :)


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