It was the 13th century Saint Francis who started the tradition of the Crèche, a practice continuing to inspire the faithful today. In order to excite the inhabitants of Grecio in Central Italy, to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus he was determined to keep it, with all possible solemnity without falling into the accusation and trap of novelty.
He asked and obtained the permission of the sovereign Pontiff. Then he prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights and sonorous psalms of praise.
Ministering to the poor and mostly illiterate population he used visual storytelling to create the tradition of the Nativity, an evangelistic discipline and devotion which continues down the ages worldwide. Churches of all denominations encourage the creation of manger scenes, in homes or in churches, in art and multi-media installations, each replete with the Holy Family, shepherds, with angels, all huddled around the central figure of the newborn babe. History meets innocence meets spectacle. To these characters Francis added animals and by extension, all of creation to the earthly chorus. Heaven and earth unite in visual songs of adoration, a collective, cosmic praise inspiring a devotion from those who enjoy and revere these local tableaux, themselves depictions of God’s creative energy and power.
St. Stephen’s, the Anglican Church in Summerland BC has shared in such nativity creation through most if not all of its 112 years at its present location on Prairie Valley Road. As Rector from 1994-2005, now returned in retirement, I continue to appreciate the beauty and splendour of its Christmas and Epiphany interpretations. Since my time as Rector, the Altar Crèche has been added; otherwise the decorations, though less abundant than at earlier times, still moves my heart especially when coupled with prayer and musical praise.
There were new and younger congregants on Christmas Eve this year. Had I more time (I was busy with other responsibilities) I would like to have spoken with these visitors to gauge their interest in and appreciation of our efforts to make the place glad as we celebrated the Real Presence of God-in-Christ in this place, in this church, in this community.
With other mainline churches, including Anglican churches, the future of the parish is somewhat uncertain. It remains to be seen how both parish and diocese can and will respond to the challenges we all face as we move through COVID together (it’s not over yet friends), as we confront the anxieties created by shifting geopolitical forces, and as consumerism contributes increasingly to the damage caused by neoliberalism and economies racing out of control.
Could this be an age where simple traditional observances such as the Nativity create new space using ancient techniques, tools which can help us breathe anew, creative and reflective space for spiritual rest and contemplation. It is my conviction that such disciplines are not simply escapism. They are artistic and inspirational means to allow God, the Holy Spirit to comfort, to speak, to inspire and to generate hope. The message of the season is that God is with us, right here, right now. May our vesture, our art and our just intentions put such hope of display.
A blessed twelve days of Christmas to all.