It’s possible that our manger scenes are wrong.
Not that I’m engaging in biblical criticism (higher or lower). I’m embarking on transactional questionism. Alright, that sounds a bit highfalutin: I’m pointing out the time compression that may be evident in our manger scenes.
The traditional manger scene is etched on our collective memory: Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus, surrounded by animals lowing, in a bucolic scene accompanied by shepherds and three (not two, not four) wise men/magi/kings. But perhaps the wise men shouldn’t be there…yet. The wise men were led to Bethlehem by a star, and Herod, you might remember, ordered that all male children in Bethlehem aged two and under be killed. This might mean that the star appeared to the Magi two years prior to Jesus’ birth, or that it appeared at the time of Jesus’ birth and it took the Magi two years to trek over there (without the benefit of jet travel and airline food). Herod was simply covering all the bases in his ego-induced murderous rage.
But, not to worry. For those of you interested in reflecting the possible historical reality in your creches and manger scenes and Christmas cantatas, I have several possible solutions:
1) Public Creches
If you are responsible for setting up nativity displays on behalf of your city, town, or hamlet, put Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the animals and the shepherds at City Hall. Put the wise men three blocks away at the downtown fire station.
2) Church Cantatas
For the dramatic final scene of your Christmas performance, in which all pay homage to the infant king, parade the animals and shepherds before baby Jesus with Mary and Joseph. Wait thirty minutes, then show slighter older Mary and Joseph at home with toddler Jesus, visited by the wise men.
3) Home Nativity Scenes, Option 1
Put the fam + animals + shepherds on your front lawn. Put the magi on your neighbor’s porch.
4) Home Nativity Scenes, Option 2
Put Mary, Joseph, Jesus, animals and shepherds on your front lawn in December, as usual. Put the three kings of Orient on your front lawn…in March.
5) Body Art
If you are into (almost) eternal ink — not that I am either approving or disapproving of such — tattoo the manger scene proper on your shoulder. Put the wise men on your big toe.