Each year, the Carrollton Texas Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in northwest of Dallas hosts a community Nativity event. One year, after the event was over, the stake president, David Blake, received a call from a mother.
Her daughter, who had attended the Nativity exhibit, was so taken by the beautiful depictions of baby Jesus that she wanted one for herself. She picked up one of the smallest Nativity scenes and slipped it in her pocket. Later, when the mother found out, she had her daughter return the Nativity. But instead of getting upset, the stake president made sure the young child was honored for her pure-in-heart motives. She had wanted to take a piece of that Christmas spirit and carry it with her.
Here’s another story: For that same exhibit, President Blake always brings one of his favorite Nativity scenes. It’s from Liberia and is made from hammered brass bullet casings, remnants of the Liberian civil wars that ravaged the country for more than 20 years. For President Blake, that nativity holds special significance because of what it represents.
He told me, referring to this past year of violence and mass shootings, “I wish we could take all the bullets that have been fired in the last six months and make them into Nativities.”
I just finished singing "The Messiah" with a local symphony and chorus. It was my first time singing nearly the entire score, and it took me by surprise. I had always thought of the "Hallelujah" chorus as the great finale number.
However, that’s not how Handel wrote it. This most famous chorus is only the end of Part 2. According to our director’s interpretation, the "Hallelujah" chorus is a glorious celebration by mortals who think, erroneously, that Jesus Christ will deliver the people from physical captivity and reign as king.
It is not until the third part of "The Messiah" that people begin to fully recognize Christ’s immediate mission: to redeem us from individual sin and to bring us all to a resurrected state.
Christ’s first coming did not eradicate war or violence. The peace of which he preached did not appear in his lifetime.
Which leads me back to the bullet story. If it wasn’t Christ’s role to do away with war and violence, who holds that responsibility? Are we to wait around until his Second Coming?
I don’t think so. I believe our role now is to beat our swords into plowshares (as Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 2:4 state). Christ made it possible. He gave us the tools of repentance and forgiveness. His grace is sufficient.
Here’s another story: I get picky about the way Nativity scenes are arranged in my house. I like all the figurines facing out with the manger and baby Jesus toward the front. Mary and Joseph sit on either side. The shepherds curve around the outer edge of the left side, and the wise men flank the right side.
As I was cleaning the other day, I noticed one of the Nativity scenes had been rearranged. Someone, one of my kids most likely, had put the figures in a cluster toward the middle. And in the middle was the manger.
I reached out a hand to fix the scene. After all, it looked a bit messy. Unscripted, like everyone had arrived out of breath and just dropped to their knees in the hay.
I stopped, mid-fix. This is how a child sees the most significant birth in the history of the world. Not as a display, but as an intimate event. The scene most likely looked just like this, with Christ at the center. All faces and hearts were turned toward him.
If we truly want to “hope for a better world,” as scripture suggests, we need to do as the young people in our lives. We need to put Christ at the center. We need to be so moved by the beauty of this humble birth that we want carry it around in our hearts, slipped into our pocket, always. We need to find a way to bring the Savior close to us every day. We need to make beauty from bullets, and a heavenly chorus from the cacophony of earthly voices.
Then we can join in singing hallelujah.