And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth,
and laid him in a manger
Starry Night. Does that ring a bell? Starry Night, of course, is the name of one of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous paintings. Famous for its swirling yellow hued stars in the deep blue sky, a small village illumined by the crescent moon and a larger dark structure, this painting has captured the fascination of art lovers since 1889 when it was painted. It has a transcendent quality to it.
Starry Night was also the theme of one of the Christmas trees that I viewed at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven. Each year they have a contest for local area school children from mostly all Catholic Schools. They are invited to make ornaments and decorate a tree, which then is displayed and voted on by the museum staff and the people’s choice.
Starry Night was my absolute favorite tree this year! Each ornament was a crèche with the background of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. And there were lights and blue stars with swirly yellow smaller stars drawn on them and yellow paper flowers and garland…it was stunning. And sweet because the tiny hands of children crafted each crèche ornament.
Every year a trip to the museum is on my list of ‘must dos’ at Christmas time. Before baking (which, PS I don’t do anyway), before getting my tree or decking ye merry old parsonage halls I carve out time to visit this lovingly curated exhibit. Most of the trees have a crèche theme because this exhibit accompanies another very beautiful and yearly museum exhibit of crèche’s from around the world.
The crèche is the most enduring symbol and representation of that night in which Jesus was born. We have no photos to remember this occasion by. There were no tripods popping up or cameras snapping in the first few hours after Mary gave birth. No iphones or selfies taken to remember that special occasion. We only have words and our wildest and most beautiful imaginations to remember, to make sense of, to make real in our lives the birth of Christ, the incarnate love of God.
So at the very least in your crèche you have the woman Mary, mostly always seated and in a ‘virgin mary blue’ color robe, the man Joseph grey bearded and all standing beside her, a wooden, but not always wooden, stable because of course, the ‘no vacancy’ sign were up all over Bethlehem town that night, and straw was strewn all over the ground because sheep, goats and other four footed animals aren’t the neatest of eaters. And at the center of all of this is a banged up, gnawed on manger, an open trough, holding the animal’s fodder…and oh, yes, little Lord Jesus with his sweet heard lying on it.
The crèche as we know it is emblazoned on the world’s collective memory. But its endearing image is only one moment, frozen in time, unless we make it real. Unless we find a way to engage the nativity, the birth of Jesus in our lives each day, then this iconic representation will be like all the rest of the human made crèches; they will be out for three weeks in December and then put back into the packing box with lots of tissue and Styrofoam peanuts and stored next to your nutcracker collection for the following year. And what good is that?
I think it is no accident that the one who commanded Peter to ‘Feed my sheep”, the one who said, “I am the bread of life”, the one whose body becomes for us a meal, a feast of hope, transformation and love was born in a feeding trough. Animals come to the trough to be fed; we do too.
That’s why we are here tonight. You thought your mother made you come!? Think again. You are hear because you too are hungry. You too are in need of feed and nourishment for your living and provisions for your journey. You are here because you want this story to be real, that a Savior really is born this day in the city of David. Someone who will satiate your hunger and feed you. You are here for your inner needs to be fed.
Because, let’s face it, the world just can’t do that for you. You are hungry for something much greater than money can buy. All you have to do is take a look at this despairing and absurd world around you. Alienation and isolation produces children and cop killers. Racism brings about division and injustice. Natural disasters take out thousands of people at a time, moms and dads, grannies’ and grandpas’ all at once. Hatred begets hatred that terrorized the innocent.
All of humanity is starved and aching and we are in need of food that will soothe our weary souls. We are hungry for love. For peace. For justice. For hope. For cryin’ out loud, just a little happiness. For God’s love.
I could go on and on, but after all this is Christmas Eve and all you need to know for tonight is that love has come down to us. That God’s ineffable grace born this night is for us and not against us. That your adversity and despair is embraced by the baby whose name is Jesus. That no matter what your circumstances might be at this very moment you are redeemed, comforted and loved by the Christ in the manger.