Our Place in the Creche

christmas-creche-2016

A sermon for Christmas Day, 2016.

Listen to the sermon HERE.

Yesterday at our 5:00 Family Service, we sang carols, we heard the Gospel and a story about Christmas, we received the Holy Eucharist, but at the very beginning of the service, we gathered around the Christmas crèche and asked God’s blessing. Later on, after the service, as most people had left the church, I noticed a family over at the crèche.  Aaron and Ann were watching, and little Theo, who we baptized last spring, was plopped down inside, among the animals, talking to the figures and seeming completely at home.   His parents looked at me with that kind of pleading look of, “We hope this is ok… there was nothing we could do…” so I quickly told them how wonderful it was and asked Theo what he thought.  “I like them,” he said, and went about continuing whatever story we had interrupted.

No crèche is perfect in its representation of the Holy Family.  No nativity scene covers all the bases.  And today, as we try so hard to mirror the diversity of God’s designs in creation, it’s not always easy to find figures that reflect that diversity.  Part of that is cultural, and part of that is personal—since any artist is bound to represent the Christmas story (at some level) as she or he imagines it, shaped by whatever culture and religious experience the artist knows.  Our crèche is from northern Mexico, and while it’s not exactly lily-white Caucasian, it is on the “lighter side,” and lacks some of the diversity we might hope for.  But it’s what we have, and with Theo plopped in the middle of it, and other kids finding their places in the story and among the figures represented, it was just about perfect.

Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with beginning the first nativity scene or crèche at Christmas. As Saint Bonaventure writes, Francis was visiting the village of Grecio, but he thought the Franciscan chapel there would be too small for Christmas Mass. So he found a niche in a rocky hill and

Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise.

The account goes on to speak of a particular soldier from the town who was deeply moved by it all, as were the other villagers. It had not occurred to people to portray the biblical scene—such portrayals are the play of children—and yet, what better way to begin to place ourselves in the Christmas story, which is, after all God’s intention in coming into the world.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. [As Isaiah foretells] Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.

A priest friend of mine who had served a church in Japan for a while used to collect Christmas crèches.  He and his wife had gathered maybe a hundred, in all, and every Christmas, their house would be like a United Nations of Holy Families:  African, Asian, Central American, Northern European, Inuit,… on and on.  Some were made of glass, some of metal, some of beadwork, and some of wood. They reflected a whole range of color and shape and size.

On this Christmas morning, at the end of our worship, everyone is invited to move over to the Memorial Chapel during the last hymn.  As we do so for our final prayers, I invite you to take a look at our crèche and to imagine what your own crèche might look like if you were to create it. Who would be represented?  Perhaps you’d include people who have helped to show Jesus Christ to you—family members, Sunday School teachers, choir directors, neighbors, a stranger. Perhaps you’d include a few literary characters or poets or musicians. Maybe you’d have Handel standing in for the piper, or a local produce person taking the place of the one who offers the apple to Jesus.  And maybe you’d include in your crèche those who do not yet know the presence and love of Jesus Christ—to imagine them close by and gathered around is one form of prayer and it’s a very good way of embracing others in the love of God.

In blessing the crèche yesterday we prayed that “all who see it [may] be strengthened in faith and receive the fullness of that life [Christ] came to bring.” May we continue to receive Christ, may we continue to love him, and may we continue to know him more deeply.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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