Nativity pictogram

I saw this little image of the Nativity yesterday and it started me thinking. It is kind of like a pictogram, or a Chinese written word. It has all the basics of the scene in a compact version. The idea is transmitted in a sort of shorthand.


It shows Mary and Joseph with Jesus in the stable. It is a humble place, nothing fancy. It was probably drafty and simply put together. It wasn’t meant to be a holy place, but it became one.

Isn’t this like us?

The stable is our bodies, while our souls are inside. We are lit by the light of God.

God in us is the same as that image – Jesus being born in a stable.

Be that image. Let your body be that stable. Let it be that humble, worn, unexpected place where God gets in and makes everything different.

Nothing was the same after that moment.

God shows up in the most unexpected, unadorned, unusual ways. God shows up in the muck and mess of our daily lives. We don’t have to be special for God to come to us. We already are special. God loves us as we are – God made us this way.

Nativity scene with Magi – I almost missed the best part.

I saw a picture of the nativity that took my breath away recently. Maybe it was the size. The picture is maybe three feet high by four feet across. Maybe it is the colors. Maybe it is the composition. Maybe it is all of it together, and more.

I apologize for the pictures. It is framed behind glass and there are a lot of fluorescent lights at the store. But, something is better than nothing.


The first thing that got my attention is the tender scene of the Holy Family. It is to the right of the picture, bathed in light. It appears that all the light is coming from Jesus. Then I notice the shepherds kneeling, holding a candle for light, admiring Jesus. They were the first to be told by an angel that the Messiah had been born. They are joyous and overwhelmed. What they have waited for has finally happened.


A dove looks on. This is the dove of peace, the dove of the Holy Spirit, and the dove of Noah, all at the same time. Doves are powerful symbols.

Then I wondered where the Magi were. There is no logical reason for thinking this. They don’t appear until 12 days later. The shepherds and the Magi aren’t together in the story, so they shouldn’t be together in this image.

Then I pan over, looking to the left. There they are, just getting off their camels. There they are, just about to come in. The artist has shown a moment in time, just for us, the viewer to see.


The Magi haven’t seen Jesus yet, but they know He is there. He is the reason for their long journey.

Mary and Joseph haven’t seen the Magi yet. They don’t even know they are coming. They are still overwhelmed with the miracle that has just happened to them.

It is just us, the viewers, who are privy to this scene. We see it all.

It nearly made me cry, to see this moment. To think that I am seeing this slice of history. And to think I almost missed it. The Magi were there all along.

We read from left to right in America, and we view pictures the same way. Once you learn a pattern it is hard to break. I almost missed the Magi because I jumped straight ahead to Jesus.

When I saw them it was such a surprise that I gasped a little. There they were, and I almost missed them.

How often do we do this? We jump ahead to the good part, forgetting that it is all the good part. We forget that everything counts, every character, every brush stroke. We only see a piece and we miss out on the big picture.

The Magi are coming. They are on their way. They are in the desert, wandering like the Jews did, but not for forty years. They are following the same God who leads us all to freedom. At the end of the journey lies redemption, and proof that God is here, with us.

Choice – not coercion. On defining women by relationship to others.

Women are defined by who they are connected to. Meeting new people, you’ll hear these questions – “Are you married?” or “Do you have children?” Both questions seek to define the woman by who and how she is related to others. Women are rarely seen as valid citizens, much less as people, if they are not connected. A woman who tries to define herself on her own merit and ability is in for a hard time.

Romance novels teach women an overwhelmingly unrealistic life goal of finding and keeping a spouse. Men don’t get this script. Ever. Men don’t fill themselves with a diet of definition by relationship to others. Men read about adventure, and superheros, and strength. The characters, their role models, are strong and independent. Women read about being swept off their feet. Men are active, and women are passive. Women’s lives are things that happen to them, acted on by others.

There are countless books for women and young girls about how to find and keep a mate – whether it is a boyfriend or a husband. There are specialized ones if the woman is over 35, where it is seen as more difficult to land a choice selection. The books are framed in the language of strategy and the hunt. Women have to seek out men, because otherwise they will be left out, and left wanting.

There are no books for men like this, and there are no books telling women how to live a happy life without a spouse, thank you very much. If you are single you are seen lesser-than. “Spinster” is not equal to “bachelor”. It should be. Being single, of either gender, needs to be viewed as a valid life choice, and not a failure. It is better to be single and happy than married and miserable.

Single women who wish to remain that way often go into nursing, teaching, or library services. All of these jobs pay enough money that a woman doesn’t have to have a spouse to support her. Yet all of these jobs are nurturing jobs. They involve taking care of and helping other people. So a woman is still defined by her relationship to others, whether she is single or not.

It wasn’t that long ago that women who got married lost their names. They were described as Mrs. John Smith – never as Mrs. Jane Smith. It was as if John suddenly developed a female alternate persona. It was never that the woman gained status, it was as if she just disappeared. By removing her first name and differentiating her by just her title of Mrs., she lost her identity as a unique person.

How often are women who have children referred to by the children’s names? She is “Sally’s Mom” – Sally is never seen as Jane’s daughter.

I bring these points up because sometimes you have to see injustice and imbalance before you can fix it. There is nothing wrong with being married, or having children. There is everything wrong with making those choices no longer choices, but mandatory. There is everything wrong with overt and covert social pressure to make women define themselves by getting married and having children. These are not life events that should be entered into lightly. These choices will affect a woman’s entire life. Women should marry or have children out of choice, not coercion, and know that they will be accepted if they choose not to do either of these things.