Exercising our religious imagination this Christmas

The Nativity scene is what comes to mind for many of us when we think about Christmas.

There is the manger with Mary kneeling by the infant Jesus with Joseph by her side. Often there are shepherds and a few sheep as well as some angels hovering in the sky.

When St. Francis of Assisi created this image in the 1200s, he did it to remind people that this holy day is about worshiping God rather than gift giving.

But this visual image did far more than that. For the people of his time it spoke to the felt sense of what this mystery was about, and it became a permanent part of our religious imagination.

Certainly this purpose is still relevant today but I’m afraid for many this Nativity scene is what the Incarnation is all about. Such a depiction of Incarnation may be helpful to teach young children about this mystery; however, the power of this mystery is so much more.

The world needs us to witness to this profound mystery more than ever. Listen to the rhetoric of many of the politicians and those running for president.

We are at war with radical Islam. We need to eradicate the cancer of IS/ISIL. Build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico to keep migrants out. Stop the resettlement process of Syrian refugees. Issue identity cards for Muslim U.S. citizens. Maybe let Christian Syrians into our country. We’ve got to be tough. Bomb them. People should have guns to protect themselves.

Such beliefs are filling the airwaves. Their energy is destructive and feeds our fears. It preys on our “differences.” It asserts that for us to be secure we need to keep others separate from us.

This toxic atmosphere belies our belief in the Incarnation, which reveals that we are all one.

Our faith will fail us if we do not allow this mystery to penetrate our hearts in ways that call forth from us a more mature faith. Continue reading

  • Nancy Sylvester, IHM, is founder and director of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue. The article first appeared in Global Sisters Report.
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