I’d been looking for years; perusing stores, hunting online, asking friends if they’d seen one. I’d just about given up when I stumbled upon a little shop on Etsy.com, and there it was: a Nativity set not made entirely of White people.
Ever since I was married and started putting together a home of my own, I wanted an affordable but nice Nativity set to display at Christmas. Once I had kids, the focus was to find one that wasn’t breakable; and then, about the time I turned 30, someone pointed something out that made the search for the perfect Nativity set nearly impossible: Jesus wasn’t Caucasian.
Why it took me so many years to realize this fact is a topic for another article, but the truth is that Jesus was Middle Eastern and very unlikely to be the blonde, blue-eyed baby we often see depicted in Western art. (This is where I also point out that His parents, the shepherds, and the wise men would likely have been of similar appearance.)
It was about that same time that I was having a revelation of another—though related—kind. I was attending graduate classes and working at Andrews University in Michigan and getting to know people from a multitude of ethnic, cultural, and geographical backgrounds. My friends’ and classmates’ stories drove me in many ways, and one of them was to strengthen my resolve to find a Nativity set that made room for everyone. It was important to me as a parent that my children see diverse representation at the manger.
From the moment I laid eyes on the Nativity set I found, I knew it was the one I needed to have. The set was made of wood, and every character looked different. Skin tones ranged from my own pink-tinted and pale through various shades of brown and black. One angel was a redhead; another was Black, and none of the wise men was White. In addition to the standard manger visitors, there were some young children, an elderly couple, and a visually impaired shepherd.
When I found this set my heart leaped and my eyes brimmed with tears. It wasn’t just because I’d finally found exactly what I’d been looking for after so many years; it was the symbolism of what I was seeing. Every little wooden character was unique, special in its own way regardless of skin tone, profession, age, ability, or gender. And every single one of them had a place in the story of Christ’s redeeming love.
After the set arrived, while my kids were at school, I hid the pieces all around the house. When my kids came home, they excitedly began looking for all the characters—from Baby Jesus to the donkey—and placing them together in one joyful scene.
This special Nativity set sits in my living room again this Christmas and has grown by one character in a wheelchair. Every time I see the scene, I’m reminded of Christ’s love. I’m reminded that no matter who we are, where we’ve come from, what we look like, or where our choices have led us, He will spend as much time as needed looking for each of us, making sure we know there is and always will be a place for us alongside Him. A place filled with grace, transformation, and unconditional, never-ending love. And that, to me, is the best reason to celebrate Christmas.
Becky St. Clair is a freelance writer living in California with her husband and three children. She has a decade of experience in public relations for the church, and currently writes and copy edits for various church entities around the world.