Monday, December 6, 2010

Nativity Scenes and the Birth Narratives

So Brooke and I finally got around to putting up some Christmas decorations over the weekend.  For a full pictorial album of our decorations, see my wife's post here.  For a story about our tree fiasco, see here.

One of our favorite Christmas decorations are our numerous nativity scenes.  We probably have about 8 different sets.  What I have always found interesting about the nativity scenes is that they are a visual representation of gospel harmonization.

For example, in this scene we have the three wisemen or magi from the East, all sitting on horses.  These magi are clearly from Matthew's gospel.  But, the scene with Mary and Joseph and the cow and donkey seems to be a stable scene which comes from Luke's gospel. Well kindof, there is no mention of a stable, just a manger, which evokes images of a stable with the requisite farm animals.

Next, look at this nativity set.  This one is very clearly a scene from Luke's gospel with all of the stable animals.  The shepherd also comes from Luke's gospel, yet in Luke, the shepherds are not present at the birth scene proper, but are in a field "nearby."  One major thing out of place would be the Star sitting above the stable, which is clearly only found in Matthew's account.

In this third nativity scene, we again have a shepherd (Luke), farm animals (Luke, kind of), the three wise men (Matthew) and now an angel, which is also not present at the birth scene in Luke, but does announce the birth to shepherds nearby.

It is very interesting to look at nativity scenes as a perfect visual example of gospel harmonization.  It is also interesting to look at a nativity scene and then actually go and read the birth narratives.  You might be shocked at what is, or is not actually in the text.

And finally, this one, oh wait, how did that get in here?  Happy Advent to you as we await the coming of our Lord.


  1. I enjoyed what you had to say here, my favorite part about christmas is the nativity scene. I always get upset when I see more santa decorations than nativity scenes. However, the reason for all the pieces being jumbled together from the stories, reminded me of how Tatian made the Diatessaron; which had the gospels merged together, much like the nativity scenes show a blending of the gospels.

  2. I love looking at different nativity scenes. I think they are an interesting way of combining someones culture and religion. Also, I think nativity scenes are a great and easy way to remind everyone what Christmas is all about. Its very easy to get overwhelmed by the presents, Christmas parties, and family. Nativity scenes to me also reflect God's glory and amazing love for us. I find that even though different nativity scenes are the same but different each tells the same meaning. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each tell the same story but with its own personality, much like nativity scenes.