By Deacon John Degano
It’s not Christmas until Jesus lies in the Manger
Several years ago Cheryl and I had the opportunity to be on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana during Advent. We had come to a social justice conference and were being shown about by our friend and diaconate formation director, Father Bob Nogosek, CSC, when we realized that there were Nativity scenes in every building and in some cases, multiple scenes.
And as we ogled the various sets, we noticed the error most people make when they put out this holiday ‘decoration’ – Baby Jesus was in the manger – ahead of Christmas.
We must have been too loud in our discussion for when we returned to our conference hall after dinner, the campus security person had parked himself by the nativity scene and did not budge the rest of the evening.
Clearly, we had drawn undue attention to ourselves as catechists and were being profiled (and watched) as potential Baby Jesus kidnappers!
One of our traditions at Christmas time as catechists with faith formation and Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) as adapted for children, teens and families is to re-enact the Advent through Christmas and the Epiphany story with our kids.
We are careful to point out that Jesus doesn’t arrive until the start of the Christmas season so if they have a Nativity set at home we tell them they should put him away in a special place (or drawer) until then!
Then we randomly assign them the roles of the characters in the story: the Holy family, the shepherds, the wise men, the animals, the angels, the Christmas star and even Jesus’ extended family (including John, Elizabeth and Zechariah) not typically included in the basic Nativity scenes.
Then as narrator, I tell the story, asking them questions about what their characters are doing, seeing and/or experiencing as the story unfolds.
When we come to the conclusion of the story, I ask them which of the characters was most important in the story after Jesus and Mary. They hem and haw, but eventually someone says, “The donkey?” Why is that? I ask.
“Without the donkey, Mary would not have made it to Bethlehem.”
The theological discussion that then ensues regarding each character is priceless.
By the time our gathering ends, they are anxious to re-tell the story to their families and how their part was instrumental to the birth of Jesus. Most will ask if they can keep the scrap of paper with the image of their character as a reminder that everyone represented in the traditional Nativity scene (as well as a few that are not) plays an important role in the story.
So my Christmas prayer for you this year as you bask in the glow of Christmas lights and huddle beneath the covers on these crisp, clear evenings, is that you take the opportunity to glance skyward to see if you can see the Christmas star hovering over your house tonight.
Shining brightly and welcoming Jesus into you home (and heart) not just for this evening, but every evening throughout the Christmas season and on through 2014.
May each of you have a Merry Christmas and to all, a good night!
John Degano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Riverside.