Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nativity scene: Why we need traditional icons and not wooden blocks

Nativity scene: why we need traditional icons and not wooden blocks. Picture credit: Nativity scene in Baumkirchen, Austria by Haneburger (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Advent is a time of waiting for Christ, the Savior of the World.  The image is Mary contemplating Christ in her womb. Christmas, on the other hand, is the birth of Christ.  The image is Christ in the manger surrounded by Mary, Joseph, the Magi, the shepherds, the animals, the angels, and the star.  Another image is Christ in the cradle of Mary's arms, which is normally depicted in paintings as the Madonna and Child.

Now, here's a picture of a Modernist Nativity scene by Emilie Doirin:
The contemporary nativity set is handcrafted in beech. It includes blocks with different proportions to represent Mary, Joseph, three wise men, an angel, a sheep and a donkey, plus baby Jesus,placed on a slightly lighter block representing a manger. "The holy scene that has been broadly reproduced is here recognisable by the names only, giving free rein to people’s imagination," the designer added.
I don't know why would anyone do this.  One reason may be is that the Christmas Nativity scene is not allowed to be displayed in government public places such as in US, so we have to be creative and display only blocks of wood with words on them.  In this way,  Christians don't offend the sensitivity of Jews, Muslims, Pagans, and Atheists.  Call this Tolerance--the new religion of the Modern Age--which has become the most intolerant of all religions.

But such a Nativity scene of blocks and letters is only for the literate who understands English.  How about the Chinese, the Japanese, the Thai, and the Arab who does not understand English?  How about the illiterate beggars, thieves, and street vendors?  How about the atheists and pagans?  The good news of the Incarnation must also be preached to all men and women, and one of the universal languages of preaching is the use of pictures.   That is why most traditional churches make the best stained glass windows depicting images in the Bible, because many of the parishioners never read the Bible, even if they are literate enough to read newspapers, books, and peer-reviewed journal articles.

If you are a pagan and you see the traditional Nativity such as the one on the right, what would you think?  Well, there is a baby born who is the source of light in the dark night.  The man and woman may be his father and mother because they, too, share the halo around their heads.  But since only the child radiates light all over his body, then the child must be greater than his parents.  Those who see him are the poor, probably shepherds because of their staff. They kneel before him as one would kneel before the king.  Then this Child must be a king.  But what kind of king is this who was born in a manger with no crib for a bed?  Where are the royal bed, the luxurious clothes, and the palace trappings?  Where are the mail-clad soldiers, the servants-in-waiting, and King and Queen dressed in all their glory?  Who can solve this riddle for us?

The seeds of faith is then sown in the pagan's heart, and he becomes open to the hearing of the Good News of the Incarnation: God became Man.  And the Christian who hears his question would relate to him the story behind the image: how God chose the Virgin Mary to be the Mother of the Savior, how St. Joseph was chosen to be Mary's husband and Jesus's foster father, how they came to Bethlehem to be enrolled in the census of the Roman Empire, how the inns were full, how they found a manger for the pregnant woman, how the child was born, how the angels sang, how the shepherds learned of the good news, how the magi learned the birth of the new-born king of the Jews through a star, how they offered to him their gifts, how Herod learned about the child, how he massacred all infants, etc.

The Christmas story is a story rooted in history.  It is never a myth invented by man.  That is why when we illustrate the Christmas nativity scene, we should always strive for historical accuracy and not what we thought it should be, for as St. Anselm said, what is real is far greater than what we can imagine.

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Kurt Adler 6-Inch 7-Piece Resin Nativity Set with Stable and 6 Figures
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Lighted Woodland Handcrafted Wooden Nativity Scene - What On Earth Exclusive
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