Christmas Comes Alive was the title of a book Geneva wrote while she was pastor at Old First. It was a recollection of stories about the live animal creche. When Stormy, the cow, escaped twice two Christmases ago, Geneva teased me, “Now you can also write a book.” I got enough news and video coverage; no more record needs be written!
The live animal creche and the consequent animal husbandry did affect my understanding of Christmas. After feeding and mucking and fretting over the animals for some years, it begins to sink in: incarnation and God’s love are all more material and earthy than popular notions of Christmas often make out. God was to be found being birthed, amidst the smells and sounds of the farm animals, fleeing for his life when the authorities would have him dead. Not much spiritual in all that if spiritual means divorced from the everyday or political or harsher realities of life.
About 4 years back, when I began using my second floor apartment for a BnB, I figured the experience of being an Innkeeper might illuminate my Christian practice of Christmas. And I already have enough stories for a book (mostly about guests and their surprising expectations). And when for various reasons, I have had more guests than the BnB can hold, I have repeatedly given people my apartment and slept on the couch in my office at church. I got the moral of the “No Room at the Inn” story…
But after Stormy, we rethought our use of the animals. Can we care for them adequately? Do enough people disapprove of their use to make it harder for them to hear the deeper story we are trying to tell?
Last year, we did the Refugee Nativity. This year we are scrambling to do a creche without the animals, I have really had to think about what — in tangible terms that are immediate and can be grasped by people — what Christmas offers and how people can receive it.
Christmas is big these days. Light shows on City Hall surrounded by the Christmas Market. Every square seems to be decorated. Major thoroughfares too. And while it provides a lot of warmth and glow for the short day and long nights of this time of the year, it doesn’t ever get past general themes. The actual religious story that is the origin and heart of Christmas gets lost or over run.
That’s what our creche tried to do. What St. Francis tried when he invented live animal creches! Put the actual story of the birth of Christ before people in the midst of all the blinking lights and tinsel. “Oh, yeah, Christmas is about God’s love for us — enough love for God to come into the world and live with us, to change us and to change the world for us.”
We want to still try that. It’s going to be harder without the animals — they were a magnet to get people’s attention. And it’s harder with the volume of Christmas louder all around us. But I think it’s worth the try and the effort. To give people a chance to see the deepest meanings of Christmas — all God offers us in Christ.
So we are building the creche! Come and help out tomorrow morning (Saturday, 12/7) at 9 am. If you are good with tools, great, but there is work for everyone.
And we are creating to rest of the characters for a full nativity scene. Bring clothes to paint in to church this Sunday (12/8) and after Fellowship Hour, we are going to turn primed-white silhouettes into fully colored people and animals…. we could use a couple of Leonardos and Vincents, but there’s painting for everyone…
We’re trying to grab people’s attention by telling the Christmas story through the various perspectives of all the characters. We’re a church who understands, even celebrates that everyone see things, even the things of God, in her or his distinctive way. It’s not one Christmas story. It’s as many related but distinct stories of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ. So all the people and creatures we depict in the Nativity scene — and everyone who comes to see it.
Where the Wise Ones share:
are often bad news
and big trouble.
Stars in heaven
point to this child
and his Kingdom coming,
A new heaven and a new earth,
will end all the trouble.
And the goat says:
I’ve always butted my head
into everything and everyone,
trying to find a place for me.
You, my Lord, have given me my place!
It’s a good place.
And Baby Jesus dreams:
Zzzzz. Zzzzz. Zzzzz.
Must sleep now.
Much work soon:
Heal the sick.
Raise the dead.
Be Good News.
Zzzzz. Zzzzz. Zzzzz.
Love First Christmas!
Come and see,
PS without the corral for the animals, there might be a few spots in the front parking lot available for Sunday morning. Let’s see once the creche is constructed!