It has been a rough year for creche sets at our house.
For our family, as for many, the Holiday Season is cluttered by rehearsals, recitals, school performances, pageants, holiday parties, classroom volunteering, shopping, shattered light bulbs from window candles that get caught up in the blinds, light strands on which only half of the lights work, and gift wrapping. There are also a lot of sprinkles. And glitter.
In the midst of all of this tangled clutter, we make an effort to keep our Advent waiting for Christ Jesus before us by majoring in creche remembrances rather than Santa decorations. It’s a small gesture, one that is easily undermined by the rest of the way we carry on. But it is a habit I cling to, hoping something about this practice will lodge itself deep within our spirits and remind us that the story arch calling us reveals the in-breaking of God’s love, not the acquisition of stuff.
Perhaps all I can hope is that it will keep people in my house from asking for an elf that spies on children and then reports to Santa. Which we will never have. Because that is creepy.
But it has been a rough year for creche sets at our house.
We have a brightly painted wooden creche for the small hands to play with, a gift purchased at our favorite fair-trade store by another mom whose companionship I cherish. We have a hand-carved creche that was a gift from my parents early in our marriage. We have a plush creche, lovingly stitched together for the church bazaar by a dear saint who has since slipped into our memories. We have a ceramic Joseph and Mary (holding baby Jesus) that was a gift from a church. And we have a handful of small creche sets that were given as gifts over the years. They are all precious to me, all evoking something about the giver.
Over the years, our characters have had their mishaps: hand-carved-Joseph has a foot that often breaks off and sometimes baby Jesus disappears for a while. Until this year, however, I have never watched an entire creche set fall from its perch. So far, two have fallen, both victims of a chain reaction of destruction.
Tangled Christmas lights toppling an ornament laden wicker tree brought down the hand-painted, fair-trade set. Ornaments shattered. Children screamed. I yelled my husband’s name but failed to follow up with clear, if useless, instructions such as “jump up and catch the entire display that is about to fall onto the hearth.” Intended for children’s play, the figures from this creche were hearty. A close examination revealed some chipped paint, but these marks are just as likely to have appeared during the many years little people did the important work of playing with and wondering about this story.
Christmas cards and stacked boxes cascading off of the antique sewing machine in our entrance hall took out a ceramic Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. It would be an overstatement to say they shattered – rather, they broke apart. Joseph neatly broke away from Mary (who never dropped the baby Jesus), and also lost his staff. Because I was running late to something having to do with holiday chaos, I scooped them up and deposited them on the kitchen island where they remained for several days while we all came and went from school and work and church.
These falling creches have stuck with me as we move through Christmas.
I am struck by the contrast between the creche that was created to be touched and moved — that was meant for small and clumsy hands, and the ceramic Joseph and Mary (cradling the baby Jesus) that was created to be left alone on a shelf. Only one of them survived being tangled up with reality.
I am struck by the reality that they came crashing down because they were made subject to the trappings of the season. Looming decorations and gifts, already casting a shadow, wiped them out.
I am struck by how many days passed before I stopped to fix the broken creche – how it lay on the counter dismembered while we went about our hectic lives.
A dismembered creche. Perhaps that is an apt description of the story we see breaking apart around us. Inequity reigns. Iniquity distorts and overpowers. Selfish and powerful rulers have traded justice and compassion for staggering personal gain. But in the midst we choose what to do with the story that keeps crashing down around us, the story of the Christ who came to bring down the powerful, raise the lowly, fill the hungry, and send the rich away empty.
We can choose to put it back together.
There are Twelve Days of Christmas, followed by the Season of Epiphany, leading us to Lent and Easter. It’s a grand narrative summoning us to a different way of being in this world, and an acute hope for what comes next. It’s the story of our redemption, and we can choose to put it back together.
May it be our prayer that Christians all over the world extricate the creche from the chaos, privileging the story lodged deep in our spirits and celebrating the arrival of Christ the King who changes everything.
Merry Christmas from all of us at the NC Council of Churches.