Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Rowe Nativity Scene

In 1223 St Francis of Assisi started the great tradition of Nativity Scenes - depictions of the birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They were so popular that their use and the devotion has spread throughout the whole world. They come, of course, in all shapes and sizes and my own is very particular, because my mum knit it.

As you can see, she seems to have had a bit of an explosion on the old sheep front, but never mind that. And there is also the old tradition of having an elephant somewhere in the scene. As with all of these things, people are divided as to how and why this may have started. I prefer the story that goes like this...

During the heights of the Empire a little Indian boy found himself in school in England for the first time at Christmas. He had been taken under the wing of a Colonian Official and his wife when the boys own parents had died. In one of those extraordinary Victorian charitable acts they had begun to care for him and wanted only what they thought was best.

And so he found himself in a draughty dormitory far from home as strange traditions were enacted about him... the carols, a tree, snow, brightly coloured gifts in the depths of a dark English winter. The Official's wife had sent him a parcel with gifts for the season... a new book, some mittens, brightly coloured cloth infused with the sents and spices of home, and a little carved, highly jewelled elephant. This he prized more highly than anything else. This was his home, with vibrant colours and honoured beasts bedecked with light and vivid power.

The night before Christmas, when only he and one other boy remained with the headmaster (India was too far to go for the Christmas holiday) the little boy was on his way to bed. The headmaster gathered the two of them around the crib and explained that when they arose the next morning the Christ Child would be there, having been born in the night, in the gloom of Bethlehem, seen only by His mother, St Joseph and the rude beasts.

The little boy could not sleep that night. Not because of selfish thoughts and wishes for presents, nor because of the excitment of the day to come, but out of a simple and profound connection with the loneliness of the family in the nativity lying in the room below. He knew what it was to be abroad and alone, to be afraid and not knowing what the future would bring. And he could not bear it that it would happen all over again, for someone else, even thousands of years ago.

And so he took his joyous elephant, full of the colours and excitement of the East and wearily trod the steps to the crib.

Jesus was there (the schoolmaster had done his job) and with such sweetness the little Indian boy placed his sparkling elephant in the darkness of that Bethlehem night - a stange guest indeed for such a strange time. The boy gently kissed his elephant and bid him goodnight and told him to watch over the scene.

An elephant had arrived in the cattle shed in Bethlehem... as the Indian boy said the next day, "not as a gift, but he can borrow him. Jesus can have him for a while, until he is not lonely anymore."

This is the gift of Christmas. One little boy reaching out in the darkness to bring hope and comfort to all those in need.

Merry Christmas.

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