HANGING ON THE WALL in my basement library is a framed piece of my early writing dated December 11, 1964 and written in pencil. It is entitled ‘The Meaning of Christmas’ and goes like this: “Jesus was born on Christmas in a stable and his mather name was Mary they had sheeps and a cow and a donkie Jesus sleeped in a manger and he grow up to be Jesus crist and his birthday was on Christmas to. The end.”
It loses something in the copy from hand script to the modern computer, but I was seven years old. Nonetheless, it was important enough for my mother to frame and keep it all these years until very recently when she passed it on to me.
I am, however, reminded of this script every December 1st when I pull out of storage some 40 miniature crèches that my wife has collected from countries around the world. The dress and costumes may differ from each other but there is no mistaking Mary and Joseph, sitting in a stable and fawning over a baby lying in a manger. To complete the narrative, they are often accompanied by a few animals, some dutiful kneeling shepherds and three wise men.
Unfortunately, like most elements surrounding the modern Christmas celebration, the iconic crèche circa 12th century is long on sentimentality and short on accuracy. The display relies heavily on one short verse found in Luke 2.7. It reads “and she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room (NIV) available for them.” What is more likely is that Joseph would have been received by a relative to stay at their home but because of the census there simply was no room in the guest house. So that left Jesus to be born in the main living area where one could also find a manger (typical in Middle Eastern homes) as family livestock were left to wander in through an open door that faced an outdoor stable.
In the Hebrew tradition, they talk of God separating Himself from His creation enough so that it can grow. They call this ‘tsitusm’ – God making space for creation. In the Christian tradition, we speak of incarnation. Here God inserts Himself into an already crowded and often unwelcoming creation, and yet, finds room and space to grow (Luke 2:52) among us, through us and in us.
As I return to the crèches that line every available shelf space in our house, I am reminded of another profound truth. The stable may be a cute and an ultimately unnecessary add-on, but the presence of these crèches representing many different countries and cultures reminds me that Jesus, God with us, is red, yellow, black, and white. And that is reason alone for the world to gather once a year around the crèche and ponder what really happened so many years ago.
Randall Holm, PhD, Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation at Providence University College recently retired after 21 years of service.