As a child, one of my favorite things about Christmas was the Nativity scenes. From the teeny-tiny one on my family’s home altar to the life-sized diorama at the Church of St. Alphonsus, carvings of the Holy Family brought the story of the Incarnation to life.
This morning I awoke to the sight of a “Hipster Nativity” on my newsfeed.
It’s pretty darn clever. I mean, the three wise men on Segways bearing gifts from Amazon!? Too perfect. One of these generic “individuals” even has a waxed mustache. Nice detail.
And Mary. Mary holding a cup of Starbucks next to baby Jesus while making a pursed-lip duck face for their selfie…
— Tara McGinley, “Sweet Jesus: There’s a ‘hipster’ nativity scene you can buy”, Dangerous Minds
There was the attendant Catholic outcry on Facebook about blasphemy and sacrilege. A friend commented: “Good grief… Maybe this is just a comment on the already unbearable commercialization of Christmas.”
One of my favorite comments came from Stephen Duffy in the Catholic Discussions Facebook group:
Well the thing that stands out about the traditional nativity scene is that Mary and Joseph have NOTHING. They manage to find a water trough and some straw to make a bed for their baby. All the people who have stuff, are too busy partying at the local hotels. Now [here’s] a bunch of guys who want to take selfies at the nativity scene with their luxury devices. [It’s] cool to be involved in the nativity scene. Do you think these people would [have] sat round a dirty old stable seeing the baby of a couple of skinflints when they could be having fun with all cool people? If such people were to see the nativity happen right in their face they would call social services immediately and would perish the thought that there was something magical going on.
Personally, I saw it as an indictment of modern “culture”. Instead of Joseph and Mary focusing on Jesus in profound adoration, here the parents are taking a selfie. Isn’t that true of so many parents today, who even set up Facebook fan pages for their children? Instead of paying attention to God, people are driven by modern technology and social mores to seek attention for themselves. One can take away a chastening spiritual lesson from this Nativity scene.
If the birth of Jesus took place today, it would be a far cry from the historical tale as yesterday’s youth knows it. There’d be a Nav system to guide the Wise Men to Bethlehem, the actual birth would be “live” on Facebook and Tweets from the manger would be posted hourly…
The Hipster Nativity Set makes perfect sense for today’s Millennials. They can relate to a Man-bunned Joseph taking a selfie and a Starbucks-toting Mary.
— Laura, “A Hipster Nativity Set So The Millennials Can Relate”, if it’s hip, it’s here
There is something really crude about modern-day attention-seeking. It feels as if the populace has been infantilized, with rampant neediness and the draining demand to “Look at me! Look at me!”. One is tempted to stick up a cynical nose à la Holden Caulfield and deride all the “phonies”. Or to mock how contrived others’ selfies are, with hilarious parodies, as Chris Martin did with his daughter’s Instagram photos, and Australian comedienne Celeste Barber with celebrities’ sultry images. One also laments the accidental destruction of magnificent art in stupid quests for a selfie, as with the woefully broken statues in Lisbon (St. Michael and Dom Sebastião), and tragic deaths.
But underneath all this is a hunger for love: a deep, aching yearning for fulfilling communion, a communion that makes you feel accepted, wanted, and completely beloved.
That’s what Christmas is about. God loving us so much that He sent His only Son to become one of us, an ordinary-looking babe born to an ordinary-looking couple. Infinite Beauty and Divine Love deigning to be bound in the finitude of a human body with a human will. That’s true love. Look at Him! Contemplate Him, and you will then understand your true worth as an adopted child of God, a marvelous creation needing no selfies or human approbation for everlasting fulfillment.
In the Hipster Nativity, the parents have turned away from their child, rupturing the loving communion of quiet togetherness in a self-seeking lust for outward approval. In a traditional Nativity, Joseph and Mary are transfixed by the wonder of Almighty God lying helpless in the manger, offering Himself as Living Bread for the world, and depending on humans to carry out His will.
God makes Himself vulnerable to us, in order to heal our vulnerability, our wounds, and receive us into His heart. When we look at Him, solemnly gazing up at us from the manger, we begin to understand the first intimations of this wellspring of Love that will pour Itself out on Calvary. We begin to learn how to love ourselves, and to love others, seeing Christ in their faces hungry for the Living Bread born in Bethlehem, the House of Bread. By loving others, we reveal their true nature to themselves as icons of Christ, bearing the stamp of divine Love by virtue of their humanity. True Love gives profound attention to a person, binding their wounds and helping them flourish. This Advent season, let us not be distracted by the junk food of facile attention, but go deeper, partaking of and giving the nourishment which is God’s Love.
“Needing attention is a p-p-powerful force in the world, isn’t it?”
“Absolutely. Most people would think of it as a very natural need. Almost a right.”
“By ‘natural’ you mean ‘m-m-morally neutral’?”
“Without God, people find it very hard to know who they are or why they exist. But if others pay attention to them, praise them, write about them, discuss them, they think they’ve found the answers to both questions.”
“If they don’t believe in God, you can’t blame them.”
“True, dear. But it still makes for an empty, unhappy person.”
“Are you saying, Father Joe, that in the matter of motives, or even morally, there’s not ultimately much difference between me and my targets?”
“I’m afraid not, dear. If the result is that you only have a personality other people shape. If you really exist only in other people’s minds.”
“I think you’ve just described celebrity.”
“I’ve just described pride, dear.”
― Tony Hendra,
By His own will Christ was dependent on Mary during Advent: He was absolutely helpless; He could go nowhere but where she chose to take Him; He could not speak; her breathing was His breath; His heart beat in the beating of her heart.
To-day Christ is dependent upon men. In the Host He is literally put into a man’s hands. A man must carry Him to the dying, must take Him into the prisons, work-houses, and hospitals, must carry Him in a tiny pyx over the heart on to the field of battle, must give Him to little children and “lay Him by” in His “leaflight” house of gold.
The modern world’s feverish struggle for unbridled, often unlicensed, freedom is answered by the bound, enclosed helplessness and dependence of Christ — Christ in the womb, Christ in the Host, Christ in the tomb.
This dependence of Christ lays a great trust upon us. During this tender time of Advent we must carry Him in our hearts to wherever He wants to go, and there are many places to which He may never go unless we take Him to them.
— Caryll Houselander, The Reed of God, p. 31 [Christian Classics]