Among all the beautiful decorations of Christmas time, my favourite is the creche or nativity scene.
It’s the tableau or diorama that represents the story of the birth of Jesus. It usually contains at least the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a stable or cave where animals are kept, as it says in the Gospel of Luke. Sometimes there’s animals, especially a donkey, and there may be the shepherds who hear the story of the birth and have come to see, along with a sheep or two, also from Luke. There may also be magi, at least three, holding the gifts that Matthew describes, often with camels. And there might be an angel, too. Maybe even a star above it all. I recently saw one that had an innkeeper peering around the corner to see what was happening.
Pastors are often quick to point out what I already did, which is that this scene is created by at least two different sources and we sometimes add to it from others, like when we name the magi. That’s not in the bible. It’s also unlikely that Mary and Joseph actually had a donkey, the “stable” was probably just a cave, the magi probably didn’t get there until well after that night because the star didn’t appear until the birth and there’s a host of other things one could talk about to deconstruct this treasured Christmas tradition.
But why would you? Sure, there’s different perspectives and examining the individual stories can be truly meaningful. We should do that as well. But I think we put everyone there at the manger that night for a reason, even if we don’t really realize it at first.
It’s because it’s right and true. Everyone belongs at the manger. We do, too.
A young couple, still trying to get to know each other, find themselves far from home. It’s late, there’s nowhere to go and she’s having a baby, a baby that’s, well, hard to explain. And yet, here he is and they wonder, with joy, at this tiny little miracle.
Shepherds certainly weren’t expecting to be there. They’re the lowest of the low in their society, poorer even than Mary and Joseph, and yet, they saw angels. Angels that gave them hope for something truly amazing. And here it is, in this tiny little miracle.
And over the side of the manger, they’re staring across at magi, wise foreigners from a distant land who have rich and expensive gifts. Their sign was a star and they weren’t even sure this was what they were looking for until they saw this tiny little miracle.
And don’t forget the animals. We put everything from sheep to pigs, chickens to camels in this stable, mostly, in fact, animals that wouldn’t even have been there. But we do, and they fit. This was their place, after all, and now there’s all these darn people in it. And this tiny little miracle.
Some people have even made their manger scene reflect changing times, different cultures and contemporary issues.
I can’t imagine that any of this was what anyone would have expected. And yet, here they all are, right where they belong. Poor and rich, the struggling and the seeking, the fearful and the certain, representing the ordinary, everyday uniqueness of all of us, here in one place together.
However you assemble your scene or tell the story, this is one moment in which we all belong there, sharing in this tiny little miracle.