Yesterday, an electrician stopped by to do some repair work. He commented on the many nativity scenes that are exhibited in the house. Never had he seen anything like it. He asked how many I had and where they were from. We walked around the house to view all crèches. With the help of my catalogue I was able to talk about each one of them. When we were done I invited him to go to The Basilica to see the many crèches we have on exhibit in the John XXIII Gallery.
All these crèches together make for a great collection. Some of them are carved in wood or stone, others are made from scrap materials such as newspapers, bottles cap or soda cans. Some are made of fired clay, either colorfully painted or not at all. One of my favorites I found in a small town in Provence. The artist uses pebbles found in a local river. On them she paints the figures of the nativity.
What is remarkable about each one of these handmade crèches is how individual artists have represented the familiar story of the birth of Jesus in their own image. Jesus, Mary and Joseph and all the other figures in the scene often look like the artist who made them. As a result we have African, American, Asian, Australian and European versions of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The animals surrounding them usually are the sheep we read about in Scripture. Sometimes the artist augmented or even replaced the sheep with more local animals such as llamas, warthogs or lions. In some of the crèches the artist has traded the traditional gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for gifts that are more typical to the culture of the artist such as monkeys and an armadillo which are given to Jesus by the Magi of the Amazon.
As he left my house the electrician asked me why I collect nativity scenes. I told him that beyond the fact that all these crèches are exceedingly beautiful and interestingly diverse they also pointedly testify to the reality of the Incarnation which we celebrate during Advent and Christmas. At the beginning of time we were created in the image of God. In Jesus, God took on our image and became one of us so we could be shown how to become more like God. This is really the essence of what we celebrate at Christmas: Jesus became one of us so we might become like him. This is what these crèches are all about. They show Jesus as one of us in our great diversity so all of us together may become like him. And that, I told him, is why I collect them.
He looked at me with a slight sense of bewilderment. Then he smiled, shook my hand and without asking any further questions went on his merry way.