Last year during Christmas week I stumbled on this nativity scene in the nave of University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford’s High Street. It moved me so much that I am hoping for an opportunity to make a pilgrimage to see it again this year.
The figure that moves me most is the elderly woman kneeling before the crude manger. Her shaky wrinkled hands are lifted and she is as oblivious to the hardness of the ground beneath her bony knees as to the odor of the filthy straw. Somehow on her face I read awe, serenity, and relief. Who is she? A Bethlehem midwife with whom Mary has shared the miracle? Is she there to remind us of cousin Elizabeth (who was “advanced in years”)–or of Anna who saw Jesus at the temple and “began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem”?
I don’t know who she is. But she knows who the baby is.