Tomorrow, or today depending on when you’re reading this, is the Feast of the Epiphany, traditionally the day we celebrate the Magi bearing gifts to the Christ Child. Sometimes this day is referred to as Little Christmas, but in some cultures this is the big day for exchanging gifts. Tonight I’ll put the kings and camels in my mangers. Yes plural because I have three of them set out.
I have several nativity sets, a small collection, and I like putting different ones out each year. The most sentimental is my first set, hand-painted by my sister. The stable was made by my first hubby and our children. It’s a simple structure made of wood scraps with stalks of straw placed across the rafters. The Holy Family still takes shelter inside, though the straw roof is showing a bit of wear and tear – which only serves to make it look more realistic. This one gets set up every year.
Another sentimental favorite is the one in my home parish back at St. Joseph’s in Galion. I’ve always thought it one of the most beautiful nativities I’ve seen. It’s been part of the parish since I was a little girl when Mom and Dad took me up close to see the Baby Jesus. I’m glad that it’s remained part of the parish despite the change in priests and church interior over the years.
But one I always look forward to is an outdoor set by someone special. Roger always brings the message of the nativity home. The story isn’t just about the Holy Family seeking refuge in a stable to await the birth of the Christ Child. The story continues today with others living in the margins. One year Roger’s nativity depicted prisoners, another year it was the homeless. His displays call us to remember that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, yet we sometimes don’t see that image in others. This year his display borrowed from The Price is Right, showing the price each person paid for their part in the story. An unwed mother subject to ridicule for starters.
During the holidays, a forest of Giving Trees spring up. Food pantries have a glut of boxed and canned food. Soup kitchens and homeless shelters have troops of volunteers marching through. But the needs don’t exist just during the holidays.
Our parish participates in a program for homeless families, providing food and shelter, for one week each quarter. The woman who coordinates our week is always looking for volunteers to cook supper one night or to stay overnight one night. The shelter is in a retreat house so the accommodations are really nice! Yet she always scrambles to find people. My friend Kevin works with the homeless in Lancaster. I wrote a series of posts about his work. He’s been posting photos on Facebook of the donations of blankets, warm clothing, tarps he’s received for the winter. He’ll have other, different needs for the summer.
My hope for the coming year is that I don’t get so caught up in my own busy-ness that I forget there are nativities and holy families out there that need the same compassion and action that’s evoked by the manger scenes I see at Christmas. Maybe I’ll keep this little one out as a reminder.Merry Little Christmas!