During the Christmas season, our attention is drawn to the crèche. Today the crèche has been widely banished from public display — whether in cities’ parks or even on the private property of shopping malls.
Nevertheless, in thousands of churches — from great basilicas to humble rural chapels — a crèche enhances the usual liturgical decor. Even many of our Protestant brethren proudly have in their places of worship a crèche, which originated with a Catholic saint, Francis of Assisi.
We see the animals, the poor shepherds, the mother who has just given birth. We see the awestruck, yet protective, Joseph. And we see the baby, placed in a feed box — a manger.
Who could imagine that this little baby is the Son of the Most High? Only, she — his Mother does. Looking at her newborn baby with the eyes of faith, Mary knows the truth and guards the Mystery.
Today, we can also join in her gaze, and look on this child through her eyes — through those eyes of simple and unwavering faith — and so recognize in this child the human face of God.
Pope John Paul II recognized the powerful symbolism of the crèche. He initiated the custom of having a rather large one displayed each Christmas season in the middle of St. Peter’s square.
“The Child laid in a lowly manger: This is God’s sign. The centuries and the millennia pass, but the sign remains, and it remains valid for us, too — the men and women of the third millennium. It is a sign of hope for the whole human family; a sign of peace for those suffering from conflicts of every kind; a sign of freedom for the poor and oppressed; a sign of mercy for those caught up in the vicious circle of sin; a sign of love and consolation for those who feel lonely and abandoned. A small and fragile sign, a humble and quiet sign, but one filled with the power of God who out of love became man.”
Is there any wonder why the crèche is still the foremost icon of Christmas? Is there any wonder why the crèche — even though it is sidelined from the secular celebrations of this holiday season — still invites our contemplation and leads us, who gaze on it through eyes of faith, to awe-filled prayer?
Most Reverend Thomas G. Wenski, archbishop, Miami