Soon after Thanksgiving is over the fall decorations are put away and down from the attic come the boxes of Christmas decorations, lights and my Precious Moments nativty set. Since my set is porcelain the children weren’t supposed to play with it but they did. I would find the sheep had wandered to another part of the stable and one time a camel suffered a broken neck. After my now adult children have visited I will find a ball for baby Jesus or a small tree and one time Spiderman was hanging above watching over the cradle. I don’t mind though because they know the true story.
Tradition has it that St Francis of Assisi created the first creche in 1223 when he mounted a living nativity scene, consisting of a manger, an ox and a donkey. It was for the the Christmas Eve Mass he organized while visiting the mountain town of Grecio.
Ornate nativity sets are often passed down through families and I have visited large collections from around the world from small to life size. The word creche comes from Latin and means “a nursery.” In Britain, childcare centers are called a creche (I did not know this). When you set out your home collection is it just another decoration as a nod to the Biblical narrative? The real nativity (place of birth) for the Son of God was crude, noisy and smelly. So many people had packed into Bethlehem that the stable was the only private space the Inn Keeper could offer. Mary and Joseph were exhausted from a very long and difficult trip, estimated to be about 70 miles, and then the poor girl delivered a baby. I found the image below on Pinterest and I think it is a better representation of the scene.
Micah 5:2 (ESV)
2But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.
Isaiah 7:14 (ESV)
14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 9:6 (ESV)
6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
It is believed that the wisemen were highly educated astrologers and astronomers that traveled from Persia which is appoximately 400 miles away. They saw a new star that signified a special, spectacular birth and they had studied the Hebrew scriptures. The new family would have only stayed in the stable a short time and Matthew 2 states “they went into a house” and worshipped the child. Some scholars estimate it may have been almost two years later, just before Herod tried to find and kill the new born King. The treasures the wise men brought were of significant value and prophetic importance. Gold, highly valuable fit for a king and we are told in the book of Revelation that the streets of heaven are filled with gold. The frankincense was a fragrant spice used as incense in the Temple and the Magi bowed to worship the Messiah. Myrrh was a holy annointing oil for the priests and also used in embalming. This signifiesJesus’ role as our High Priest who would die for us.
Jesus, One with the Father stepped out of glory to come to earth to dwell with mankind and experience everything we do. He lived a sinless life with the purpose of one day offering Himself as a sacrifice for our sin so we can be forgiven, made holy and have a relationship with God.
It is my hope and prayer that as we look at a creche or visit a life size nativity scene this year that it will be more than one more thing on our “to do” list, more than an heirloom to put out. Because a creche is only a model of the beginning of the greatest story ever told.
from Amy Grant’s Heirlooms
Wisemen and shepherds
Down on their knees
Bringing their treasures
To lay at His feet
Who was this Wonder
Baby, yet King
Living and dying
He gave life to me
Time never changes the memory
The moment His love first pierced through me
Telling all that I come from
And all that I live for
And all that I’m going to be
My precious Savior
Is more than an heirloom to me