Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My First Visit to a Living Nativity

On Sunday night, we bundled up the kids, spent 10 minutes searching for a mitten that somehow got lost INSIDE the van (we later found it outside on the garage floor,) and drove to a neighboring town to see a living Nativity.

I'd never been to one of these before; actually, I wasn't aware until a few years ago that living Nativities were even a thing.

When we walked in the door of the church building, we were greeted by a line of Disneyland proportions. It wound up and down the stairs, through classrooms, and zig zagged through rows of folding chairs in the fellowship hall.

I looked over at Phillip, who'd choose a horrible skin disease over waiting in long lines any day, to see how he'd react. He raised his eyebrows and said, "They'd better have the real Jesus at the end."

Joseph and Mary
The line moved along and we entered the sanctuary to watch a dramatization of the angel visiting Mary. We saw Joseph's confirming visit from an angel in his dream, and Mary's visit to her cousin Elizabeth. (I also saw some juvenile nose-picking going on in the audience but I let it slide.)

We were given traveling papers with our new Hebrew names and genealogies and assigned into "familes" of about 20 people. Costumed guides in character ushered our "family" outside and down a path lined with candles in the dark behind the church.

I wish I could have gotten a picture of this, but it was dark and my point-and-shoot camera couldn't handle it. Actually, the real reason is that I was busy pacing around in the cold with a 9-month-old who hates his winter coat with the fire of a thousand suns and had already been good for the 45 minutes we waited in line.

The basic idea was that we were a family of Jews traveling to Bethlehem for the Roman census, just like Mary and Joseph. Along the meandering path there were beggar children, a group of Jews sitting around a campfire retelling prophesies of the Messiah, and Roman soldiers. The soldiers had a good time hassling me about my baby's stroller.

These Roman soldiers looked cold.
At least the rest of us got to wear pants.
"What a strange chariot!"

"Look, the horse is in the back instead of in the front!"

"That's why these people were so easily conquered."

My kids were spellbound. I couldn't believe how much work must have gone into this event. Everyone was costumed. They'd trucked in live sheep for the shepherds.

Everything else so far had been really authentic, so I'd been wondering if they were going to have a real baby in the Nativity.

As we neared the end, I didn't have to wonder because I could hear the baby Jesus wailing his lungs out. It was that tiny, rhythmic, frantic newborn cry that sounds like "LAA, LAA, LAA!" and means "I've been hungry for at least 45 seconds and I'm DYING!!"

Maybe it's a weird thing that only happens to me, but I can't hear that sound without smiling and feeling a pang of longing for those first few sleepless, cuddly weeks with a new baby in the house.

When we finally reached the Nativity, Jesus was quietly nursing under a blanket. Mary appeared unfazed to have 20+ people staring at her while she breastfed her baby and smiled back at us.

It was a nice night overall, but my favorite part of the whole experience was the human-ness of it. As a privileged 21st-century American with an Internet connection, a refrigerator, and a washing machine, I sometimes struggle to read about the birth and life of Christ as something that really happened in a real time and place in history. But motherhood, now that's something I can relate to.

That's why I loved that the baby playing Jesus was just doing what babies do. Jesus  the real Jesus  cried the same distinctly newborn cry that babies have always had, and Mary picked him up and nursed him in response like mothers have always done.

Mary loved Jesus not only because He's her Savior, but also because He's her son. He lived a sinless life, but He also lived a mortal experience. Knowing that helps me relate to the scriptures better, and I know it allows Him to perfectly relate to me.

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