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Placing Ourselves in the Nativity Scene

January 4th, 2014by Fr. Dave Endres


One of the cherished Christmas gifts from my childhood is a simple, plastic nativity set. My grandparents gave it to me when I was eight or nine. It has traveled from my room when I was growing up to my college dorm and to now my office at the seminary. Each year I enjoy getting it out in Advent and arranging the figures.

And each year I am confronted with two questions: Do I put the baby Jesus out before Christmas? And, do I put the three wise men out before the Epiphany? Recently, I have placed them all in their rightful place from the start, but I know some people who keep an empty crib until Christmas Eve and others who slowly inch the wise men closer and closer to the stable.

Setting up a nativity scene and making choices about just where to put the shepherds and the sheep and how and when to display the wise men can help us in our spiritual lives. It can allow us to enter more deeply into the mystery of the nativity – to put ourselves in the scene.

It can be a very powerful meditation – one that many of the saints liked to do. St. Ignatius of Loyola encourages us to meditate on the nativity in this way: to imagine the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem; considering how long, how wide, whether it is level or through valleys or over hills; how the stable looks, how large, how small, how low, how high. And then to look at Jesus, and Mary, and Joseph and imagine ourselves there with them and to imagine what they are doing and what are they saying. How are they feeling? Joyous, exhausted, or scared?

During this Christmas season, we can put ourselves into the nativity scene and we can ask ourselves some important questions:

The wise men followed the star, they didn’t know exactly where they were going, but they took a risk. Are we willing to take a risk for God? Maybe the risk it to discern a vocation to the priesthood; or to have another child; or consider a leadership role in your parish.

The wise men also brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  What gifts do we bring? Are there other gifts we need to develop? Are there gifts that we need to give to others? Maybe as of late we have been slow to share the gift of faith with our families, our co-workers and friends. Or maybe we have been selfish with our time and need to spend some quality time with a spouse, a child, a grandparent.

During this holy season we have a wonderful opportunity to place ourselves into the nativity scene right there with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the three kings. And if we consider what they might be doing, saying, and feeling God might reveal a special insight for each of us as we, too, kneel, before the infant Jesus in the manger.

Photo Credit: Used under Creative Commons Licensing,

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Fr. Dave Endres

Fr. David J. Endres is assistant professor of church history and historical theology at Mount St. Marys Seminary/Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati.