There is a Christmas Market in in front of the Rathaus (city hall) in Vienna. It is big and colourful with lots for sale. But there is more to it than just commercialism. Part of the market is the Nativity Trail, a series of 12 nativity scenes, different interpretations of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Back in Ottawa I have a colourful nativity set that we purchased the year we spent Christmas in Liberia. It is made out of sticks and cloth and I think seeds.
In the Austrian capital you will find the Vienna Manger Association, a group dedicated to creating artistic nativity scenes. It is a lot of work, with about 70 being produced each year. I suspect they are very expensive if you want to buy one.
The theme of this year’s exhibit is “Old Viennese Nativity Scenes.” Not that the nativity sets themselves are old, but that they are set in the Vienna of an earlier era, not Bethlehem. I’m not an expert at these things, but they have a 19th century feel to them.
The nativity displays each have their own little hut, with the sets themselves safely behind glass to protect them from the elements (and perhaps people’s fingers). I know there are ways to take pictures through glass without glare, but I think that requires using filters on my lens, filters I have never gotten around to buying. Which is why these pictures are less than perfect.
It is that time of year when the world pauses to think of a baby born in a stable and laid in a manger. At Christmas we try to recapture our innocence and become a little more childlike. We know about wars and rumours of wars, yet we still yearn for peace on earth, as unlikely as it seems.
Too often we miss the message of Christmas. I think the creators of these nativity sets have grasped one of the essentials by setting Jesus birth in Vienna instead of Bethlehem. The idea of God becoming flesh, of the divine reaching out to humanity, shows a willingness to meet us where we are.
In the first century that was Bethlehem. Today it could be Vienna, or Sulzburg, or wherever you are today. The message of Christmas is that God is reaching out to me, to you, to everyone in love, wherever we are. How we respond is up to each one of us.