Standing in a parish hall in central Massachusetts, a group of Christians from Ghana gazed with surprise at the figures of a nativity scene from their home country.
A parish of our diocese–St. Andrew’s in Ayer–maintains a remarkable tradition of displaying over 300 nativities from every corner of the world. This year, as part of our growing collaboration with the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, St. Andrew’s shared their vast display with Trinity Church in Shrewsbury. A Ghanaian congregation worshiping at Trinity contemplated the extensive exhibition. “Do you have a creche from Ghana?” they inquired. “We do!” responded the proprietor of the collection, showing them to the Ghanaian nativity.
The group gathered around, slowly gazing upon the carvings with a prayer on their lips and a tug at their heart. For these Christians 5,000 miles from their homeland, the simple wooden figures spoke of familiarity, spoke of identity, spoke of God’s love. The creche spoke to them without words, yet in their own vernacular.
As I wandered amongst those 300 nativity scenes, I was struck anew by the universal message conveyed by the Christmas Gospel. While depicting the Nativity of Our Lord, the feeling in the room was perhaps more that of Pentecost, the power of Christ’s proclamation made comprehensible to one and all. The figures crafted in wood, clay, fabric, corn husks, and more, evoked, as Scripture might say, “every family, language, people, and nation.” Jesus was born in one place, yet came for every place. Jesus was born in one time, yet came for every time. Jesus was born to one people, yet came for all people.
The good news of “Emmanuel: God with us” makes its way not only to every culture and to every age; that news comes also to each of us in the particularity of our own circumstance, and we find it to be different every year. Some years God enters the enchantment of Christmas alongside eager children; other times God enters the ease of those enjoying contented quietude. Sometimes it may be in the gratitude of post-pandemic togetherness; still other years the grief of loss is underscored at Christmas–and God enters that, too.
The message of the angel, “Fear not!” makes itself heard not only in church pews on Christmas Eve. That message also breaks through to the anxious family in the oncology ward; to the wary immigrant in transitory housing; to the weary champion for justice in their discouragement; to the newly widowed in their sorrow; to the nervous breadwinner on the picket line; to the frightened soldier on the battlefield. There could be another 300 nativity scenes depicting just these places, and more. For these, too, are the places where God will be born anew.
I do not know what the creche scene of your own life looks like this year, but I pray that in it you experience the renewed Incarnation of God's love. In the words of an earlier bishop of Massachusetts:
No ear may hear Christ’s coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
Christmas blessings to you.
The Rt. Rev. Alan M. Gates