What a wonderful, what an exciting, Christmas it has been for me – a preacher! Having proclaimed the Christian message for over fifty years, I could be excused, you might think, if I wearily complained that I’m running out of ideas. …that the theme has become stale to me.
Not a bit of it! God has inspired me to scour the Internet in the quest to discover how people of different races and cultures celebrate the birth of Jesus through their cribs. This has been a revelation to me. I’m not now thinking of the cribs mass- produced in some factory and distributed throughout the world. I have been fascinated by the hand-made cribs intended for the family or for the local church community.
It has been brought home me that when the Son of God became man He made His home with the peoples of the world, where each one of them was and He became one of them - just as they were.
I came across Jesus lying in a crib, Joseph and Mary wearing thick hide hats, garments, and gloves - all with fur trimmings. In the background was an igloo ‘ice-box.’ In attendance were not an ox and an ass but polar bears and seals – in real life not the closest of friends!
In another corner of the globe Jesus is welcomed into the world by Joseph and Mary, wearing Peruvian clothes and with the features of the local people. With them are elegant llamas gazing with serene reverence at the child in the crib.
Since I’ve spent all my priestly life in the Caribbean I was much attracted to Jesus being sheltered under palm-branch roofing, supported by bamboo poles.
I simply love the carvings of the crib figures – in stone, wood of the olive tree of the Holy Land, or some other wood; beautiful carvings in soap, ice or the ivory of elephant tusks. I came across rag-doll figures and a superb sea-shore Nativity tableau fashioned in sand.
Whether the Nativity has been depicted in ceramics or paintings, the figures in the cribs represented the peoples, the cultures of the world - Chinese, Indian, African, Aboriginal, European, and so on. Particular cultures and life-styles were reflected in the cut and brilliant colours of the garments – as well as by brief grass skirts and even total nakedness.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph were totally identified with the particular culture of these people who made and cherished their own vision of the Incarnation. The Son of God had become man in their world. And they had welcomed Him as one of their own.
For me reflecting on this, praying about this was profoundly moving. It came home to me vividly that the Son of God, in taking flesh, belongs to every individual human being, and that, through this galaxy of cribs is shown to be a member of each and every nation, tribe and culture. Each one can of Jesus, ‘My Lord, my God, my Brother!’ All together we can say ‘Our Lord, our God, our Brother!’
And Jesus can say to each one of us, ‘My brother or My sister.’ To the global family of mankind Jesus with pride and joy can exclaim ‘My Family!’
Each of us, as individuals with our own brand of humanity with its language or dialect, is celebrating Christmas with this single, shared, theme: ‘Unto Me, unto you, unto us together…a child is born…who is Lord and Saviour of us all.’ As all of us acclaim Jesus as our brother WE ARE OF MARVELOUS NECESSITY THROUGH JESUS SIBLINGS TO ONE ANOTHER.
All these cribs, each in its own way, and all of them together, are telling me that the Son of God was born into and raised within a family such as is recognized throughout the Christian world and is accepted by other religions and people of no religion.
These cribs are together making a statement that the family of man and woman bonded together by the exchange of promises made in public is what we mean by marriage. It is within their loving togetherness children are born and raised. This is what the Church considers to be the bedrock of society: the Family based on a man, a woman and their children.
Mywaygodsway for me this Christmas is that through this multitude of cribs God has been telling me that there is a message that needs to be spoken loud and clear: this is how God intends families to be. The Holy Family of Jesus, Joseph and Mary is telling me: love the family, love the community in which we live, love the families, the people of the world.
Peter Clarke OP
Peter and Isidore wish you and your family every blessing for the New Year