Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Portraits of the Nativity

Jay sometimes gets frustrated with the details and background information that I often give him when I’m recounting an event that’s happened. But hey, I’m an English teacher, and those elements happen to be meaningful to me.
So, this cold (and un-snowy) night, I’m thinking about the characters of the Christmas story that’ll be reiterated in countless homes this season—
My thoughts drift back over the changing of seasons—one century, two. Beyond globalization, past European domination, into the heart of civilization’s birthplace, to a tiny village so insignificant that later people would exclaim, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
From wooden figures on my mantel to living, working people, clothed in flesh, not so unlike my own—with aspirations, sorrows, perseverance, and joy—more characters of my imagination than biblical descriptions—I often picture Mary on the back of a donkey. I know nativity scenes must portray her gazing lovingly on the infant child, yet I still can’t help seeing her hunched over, wrapped in a blanket with the frigid winter wind chapping her cheeks.
This night the initial events of the coming Christ must have seemed so very far away—the angel’s visitation, those intimate conversations with Elizabeth, the hushed and private marriage ceremony, the dependable arm of Joseph she’d grown to lean on—
And now, they’d gathered their meager belongings to leave—to seek out refuge in Bethlehem. Certainly more than a census had whisked them out of Nazareth, away from family, condemning glances, the place she once called home.
And as she wrapped her covering more tightly, did it all seem too distant and too fantastic to actually believe?
Oh, how I have doubted in the harshness of life the path that once seemed so sure, so God’s will for me. Did Mary doubt too?
Did the small form in Mary’s womb ever seem more her baby than her God? Did she ever wish this happening on another? Did she ever simply wish for warmth and acceptance on a cold and blustery night?
Somehow, I always picture Mary on the back of a donkey—

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