The Nativity

Take any hundred people in the western world and pose the question 'what does nativity mean to you'?

Ninety percent will answer 'the birth of baby Jesus', 'the birth of Our Lord' and many more amalgams of such a thought.

For that is what they learnt to believe from a very early age. That is the Christian belief.

When our minds could take in the Festival of Christmas we then saw the baby Jesus lying in a cot of straw, adored by the Virgin Mary, his mother, and Joseph, his father. Close by were farm animals, cattle, sheep, a donkey and perhaps colourful fowl. For the scene was set in a stable - the only place they could find for the imminent birth of Mary's baby. Overhead a bright star seemed static in the heavenly firmament.

For most Christians the story of the birth of Jesus is pretty clearly defined. Just turn to the New Testament and there you will find everything one needs to know how the Savour, God Incarnate came into being. This is the story of the Jesus of Faith.

Down the ages artistic licence has been portrayed in the Scene of the Nativity. Whether it was a manger, crib, cot, grotto or cave that the baby Jesus was depicted in doesn't really matter. After all, the main thing is that 'He' was born to save mankind from eternal damnation and that was over two thousand years ago.

The Nativity brings together Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, the shepherds, the angels, the animals and then on Epiphany, the Wise Men.

Western tradition sees the conception and birth of Jesus as divine events. Mary is depicted seated, holding the infant Jesus on her lap.

The eastern tradition, however, emphasises the reality of the incarnation of Jesus and his human birth. Mary is depicted lying down as she has just given birth.

In the hearth of Bethlehem stands the Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity's most sacred sites, the birthplace of Christ. Situated on Manger Square some miles from Jerusalem the Church is built over a grotto where the Virgin Mary is said to have given birth to Jesus.

These days it is administered jointly by three Christian denominations - the Roman Catholic Church, the Armenian Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. The site has been venerated by Christians since St. Justin Martyr identified it as the site of Jesus' birth in the second century.

Recently, the current Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and head of the Roman Catholic Church in the region, described the Church's Basilica as a 'place of refuge for everyone'.

In the month leading up to December and Christmas, even in our much commercialised world, it is gratifying to know and witness the enormous thought and dedication that people are putting into their own personal appreciation and homage of this unique and sacred event.

The tradition of Christmas is celebrated and portrayed in many different guises throughout our world in this vibrant twenty-first century.

Over here in Ireland in our capital city, Dublin, thousands file past the 'Living Crib' outside the Mansion House in Dawson Street. Set up and manned each year by the Irish Farmers Association it embodies the very poignant picture of that momentous event. Whether in rain, snow or the endless grey of winter the scene is majestic in its magic and mystery.

With Ireland's increased prominence and participation in world affairs it is not uncommon to witness a kaleidoscope of ethnicity gazing in wonderment at the variety of animals surrounding the central figures of the Nativity.

Each child, usually accompanied by a family member or three, listens attentively to the story of the Birth of Baby Jesus as handed down from generation to generation, in whatever language. This image is then re-enacted by the family in their homes where each child becomes eager to create their very own individual crib.

To most of us in the western world Christmas presents a time for reflection on this humble birth of the child that created Christianity.

We know it as 'The Nativity'.

Henry G. Bellew
Dublin, Ireland


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