Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent 8: Growing the Family Tree

Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name EMMANUEL, God with us.
Isaiah 7:14

This is the season when I am acutely aware of the geographical distance between me and my family of origin: both sisters live in the south now with their families, my Mum spends part of the year on Long Island (where I was raised) and in New Orleans with one of my sisters; Uncle Howie still lives in Nova Scotia, in the town where he and my Mum were raised; my dad and his family live in Washington state, and assorted cousins, cousins, and more cousins live throughout the northeast and Canada.
But at this time of year, I long to see them, to have a meal together, to share a game of cards (a nightly family activity), and most of all, to laugh with them.
A pastor’s life, however, requires that I stay put for the holidays. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I participate in a ministry decathlon of special services and events which, by the time I cross the finish line on December 26, leaves me filled spiritually but depleted physically and emotionally. As a result, even the lull between Christmas and New Years is not the greatest time to see family, unless they want to watch me nap!
This longing for family connecting is perhaps why I cherish putting up the many nativity sets I have collected over the years. Whenever I travel, I look for a set that reflects the culture of the country I am in. I have sets from Kenya, Mexico, Israel, and France, as well as sets from some of my favorite places in the US and Canada. I take my time setting them up, holding Mary and Joseph in my hands before setting them down on a shelf. I try to imagine them as they were 2000 years ago, wandering far from home, Mary beginning to enter labor with no loved ones present to assist, no familiar things around her to comfort her.
Once Mary and Joseph have been placed, out come the other pieces: shepherds, kings, peasants, and assorted animals all gather around them as the baby Jesus is laid in the midst of them. The nativity set becomes whole, all the characters connected, as the awe and love they share for this God-gift unites them in love.
This always becomes an object lesson for me, reminding me that no matter how far I am from my family of origin, in this season I remember once again how my family extends beyond my genealogical chart. New branches keep getting grafted on as the God-gift of love keeps helping me discover brothers and sisters I didn’t even knew I had. As we all pause in this season to make our way to the manger once again, may we all discover new family members who are made one with us through the one whose birth the angels sing.

1 comment:

  1. I remember our nativity set growing up - the roof was straw, it was very rustic. I could picture myself in there with them maybe leaning against the donkey. That's the image in my mind when I hear the story of Mary & Joseph. I hope there are many, many children who will get to see your sets from all over the world and to maybe see a little of themselves inside them. Merry Christmas!