Today’s Word from Pastor Dave Bieniek…

Anyone who visits our house (or our social media pages) at Christmas realizes that we have a lot of Nativity scenes. Each one has a story of course, which makes each one important. Some of the Nativity scenes we have bought together and some of them have been with one or the other of us for years. It’s one of these that I want to tell you about today. We have come to call it the “Manger Menagerie.”

This Nativity started as my childhood Nativity set that was always under our Christmas tree or on a nearby table. It had several pieces glued into a cardboard stable. Over the years my brother and I had added a few pieces – some sheep, a dog, an extra shepherd, and somehow a bagpiper. One year my toddler niece walked up to the Nativity and put her teething toy, a sheep, right in the middle of the other sheep. It is there to this day.

Eventually the cardboard stable got caught in a leak and the glued-on pieces had to be rescued. The stable would never be replaced, but each year the Nativity figurines would still be set-up. Over the years I added a few more pieces from garage sales and after Christmas sales – a fourth wise man, an extra Mary, another dog (or was it a wolf?), a few angels, as well as a few other pieces.

Somewhere along the way, this Nativity got packed away in a shoebox and stopped making its annual appearances. When Ervin and I got together, one Christmas he asked about the box. I dismissed it, mostly out of embarrassment. He unpacked it and fell in love with it. Not only has it made a yearly appearance, but each year a few more pieces are added to the growing Nativity scene.

The scene now includes a variety of animals from around the world including a longhorn steer, an ostrich, a snowy owl, a sea turtle, a set of rolling racoons, and of course a wolf and bear. Next to the bagpiper now stands a jazz singer from New Orleans, and Father Christmas has joined the parade of Wise Men. Last year a friend gave us a purple dinosaur and this year a kraken made its appearance.

What does a childhood Nativity scene turned into an adult tradition have to say about the coming of Jesus into our world today? Plenty! We see this Nativity scene, this Manger Menagerie, as a symbol of what the church should be in our world today, a place where all are truly welcomed.

At TLC we used to sing it, and we still hear it often, “Ours is the church where everyone is welcomed.” And yet often that is not what we hear when people talk about Christians in a general sense. Even in these pandemic times, we still hear messages of exclusion and hatred coming from leaders that say they are speaking the message of Jesus.

Yet the message of the Nativity, whether it is the Gospel stories from Matthew and Luke, or our hodgepodge collection of characters, is that everyone was invited and welcomed to the Good News that God became Incarnate, that he chose to come and live among us as a tiny helpless baby, born as a poor refugee in an enslaved country. Angels, shepherds, and wisdom seekers from afar came seeking him and brought him their gifts. And in turn, Jesus gave us the greatest gifts of all.

May this last week of Advent find you enjoying those gifts of Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love with a good dose of Laughter as we head into the Light!

Happy Solstice Everyone!

Pastor Dave Bieniek