Thursday, January 1, 2009


1 January 2009

I just set up my crèche. Usually it goes up with the tree, but holiday travel and bustle pushed it back till now. But it's OK--we still have five days till Epiphany, or Three Kings' Day, when you really need a crèche. Five days for the shepherd to complete his idolatry and withdraw with his sheep, while the Wise Men wend their way toward stable and star. Five days to rearrange the manger scene again and again--I think some family member is changing it when I'm not looking--for maximum effect. 

As you can see, our set in a simple, minimal one, just seven human figures, four animals, and a rickety stable with star attached. The kings bear tokens of their royal gifts, the shepherd carries a lamb. The Holy Parents make a protective pair--Mary by her posture, Joseph with his staff--while the Bambino radiates out from his straw. All is as it should be, every figure in its place, flickering faintly in the light of the votive candle I have placed there. If you look closely at the figures, you see that the carver has given great expressiveness to their tiny features. They were carved by hand in olive wood in Palestine, in Bethlehem, on the West Bank.

But suddenly, as I recall this fact, I am struck by how illusory it seems, the peaceful scene represented by my crèche. How perfect it is, the continuity from year to year as the twelve days of Christmas unfold and turn into Epiphany. How perfectly the Kings arrive, right on schedule. How satisfying this whole story of babies in mangers, attended by shepherds, angels, and kings. How unlike the chaos and hatred and death that characterize the place we call the Holy Land this festival season. How poorly my crèche suggests the agony of Gaza. Or put another way, how Gaza raises its voice in witness against the complacency of my crèche, of our holiday season. How far we have wandered from the peaceable vision of the prophets, of the gospel storyteller, of the carver of my crèche. 

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