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Setting up a Crèche in 3 steps

    An essay on the formative value of setting up a crèche
in 3 essential theological steps!

I set up this particular crèche every year, at a different spot in my apartment. I make a sort of a Christmas corner with it, adding ornaments and various objects related to Noël. But above where I put it this year, I have a Franciscan Resurrected Jesus and this one is on the wall year around. It was given to me by a dear friend who just died. It is an unusual cross since Jesus Christ is portrayed after his crucifixion, with the holes in his hands and feet, wearing the white garment used in burial. And he is looking straight at us… I have the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on one side and a collage (made by myself) of St. Joseph on the other side, and along the years I added a few of my favorite saints.

This year, as I was placing the crèche and the appropriate small statues of Joseph and Mary and angels on the shelf below, I decided to place the more secular ornaments I have on its left, where I have all the space I needed since there are two levels. I put a little train (knitted years ago by my mother in law) on one level of the shelf and the other Christmas-type trinkets above it, as a sort of "caravan" facing the crèche too. This is where the biggest change happened for me, I thought that not only where they all facing the crèche, but they were hurrying towards it. And at that point, everything else crystallized into a certain order made of three steps.

We are ALL rushing towards the crèche and the cross...

Since we are all advancing constantly, daily, towards the end of our life, whether we sleep or work, whether we want it or not, whether we drag our feet or not… because our death is when we will meet Jesus, this is what happens at death, for each one of us, we all meet Jesus! But here is the greatest gift: we can meet him right now, at any moment of our lives, we are free to meet him (or not) but if we do it before death, it will transform our lives for the better. So it is a double plus situation as far as I am concerned: if you have faith, this understanding should inspire you to deepen it, and if you don't, you are in for a real treat, you are in for an amazing discovery!

What I just said about going from Christmas to death in one paragraph might be surprising, it is normal that we do not think about death consciously all the time, we usually push it out of the way to the back burner of our awareness, unless a specific event happens. Personally, I lost two dearest people in the last 6 months, I am growing older myself and I tend to take, more and more, the liturgical events literally, and I wish, more and more, to be able to share what my grasp of the faith means to me because I find it so amazing and so full of wonders… All this to give the context of this essay.

So this year, here I am putting my small Christmas train, the Snowman in a convertible, Santa in his sleigh (and a small ornament of a little boy and his luge, and I even added a toy cable car for the local flavor!) so they represent various aspects of Christmas in the secular world, mainly in the Western world, but it is actually spreading globally. All of this I called "step 3" which is the impact of "step 2" and "step 1" on our lives and its influence on the culture.

Once I was finished setting it up, the relationship between the three steps made so much sense to me: the crèche and the cross are "step 1", made of the two ends of the same event: Christ in the world. They are both fundamental and critical events in the history of the world (anchored in time) and resting on the person of Jesus Christ, and the development of the Church (anchored in geographical space). "Step 1" is even more than these two anchors since it is the gate to another dimension, the eternal and universal one, the divine one, with consequences often difficult to perceive since they go beyond time and space. He came for the whole world and he is still coming every time we turn to him and he will come again in glory.

  STEP 1: Jesus Christ

  The Incarnation
  The Life of Jesus
  The Passion
  The Crucifixion
  The Resurrection

It is easier for most believers to understand (more or less) this first step.

  STEP 2: the Saints

  The cloud of witnesses, the saints and martyrs
  The champions of the faith
  Prayer Warriors and Intercessors for us

It is also possible for many to understand "step 2": the cloud of saints and witnesses, the champions of the faith. On my wall, after I set up the crèche and the train and trinkets, I added more prayer cards, including St Nicolas (the first distributor of toys to poor children in the streets of Mira in the 4th century) and St. Francis of Assisi (the first to encourage and spread the use of the crèche in the 12th century). At this point, I decided to make a diagram of what I was trying to convey so I could better talk about it to my small granddaughters. I wanted to show them, in a few simple words, this movement going from the crèche to the Resurrected Jesus (step 1), via the communion of saints, and how we are called, each one of us, to participate in it via prayers and good deeds, hope and faith and loving each other (step 2), and how it has always impacted the culture (step 3), some of it being very worthy influence (the gifts, the joy, the sharing, the call for peace).

STEP 3: the world and the culture

 Each one of us, right here on this planet, and the world around us...

But other aspects of step 3 are sometimes worrisome. I have been uneasy with the "secular version" of Christmas, by its unabashed adoption of buying and hoarding gifts, by its superficial call to be joyful (because of these material gifts?), by its ambivalent embrace of consumerism as the only reason for happiness and gratitude… And I even wondered how come there is so much talk constantly about justice for all, dignity and diversity, but without any reference to Christ? He, who came (and suffered and died) to bring us exactly the true and just way, a real dignified and diverse one since it is a universal call, and He who places love and caring and forgiveness above everything?

I am sometimes tempted to answer that you either see it or you don't. But the real answer is that nothing is so black and white, it is entirely possible that some people see some of it now, but changes will happen for them later, and anyhow, why should I worry about it, why not grow in patience and trust myself instead… I even questioned sometimes what is this frantic and frenetic determination to downplay Jesus'impact or to even ignore him completely? The answer to this question has to do with the enemy (as St. Teresa called him) and the best way to strengthen ourselves is by putting on the armor of God (as St Paul urged us to do), by carving a spot in the center of my life where God can reign, by turning to prayers and sacraments again and again. But it is a constant process, it is not an occasional grand stand, and it implies an interior cleanup, a constant effort to keep anger and contempt, impatience, frustration and pride in check (I'm mainly talking to myself here!).

Every year is different and this year marked a turning point for me. My diagram is obviously just for myself, but my granddaughters made it all gel into a very constructive and creative moment. If I started with the crèche, and if I am the one writing about it now, I want to give credits to the two little ones who deserve it most! My ability to learn more about patience and serenity, to give up the desire for a quick control and, on the contrary, to practice love and kindness in the simplest words and the smallest gestures, was greatly helped by these two preschool little people… It is fascinating to me how much little children can actually teach us and how much we learn when we try to teach them something.

The relationship between a grandmother
and her grandchildren is a real gift.

The joy and excitement is the best, the love and trust flowing through them is a real treat. I told them about the beautiful movement in the 3 steps of my crèche, a sort of partially invisible cosmic dance between heaven and earth, a partially interactive one depending on how open and loving we are, and our own ability to thank God for his graces (which I might have summarized into a few words such as "an amazing dance", a beautiful music" and "it is real and it is here!"... And we all stood there, quietly, in front of the manger, and it was a moment filled with blessings.

We were given life to seek and love God,
we were given a heart to see and love each other…

from Creche to Cross, St Cecilia, SF

From the Crèche to the Cross, all in one photo, with his shadow bearing so much hope for the whole world… He is the way, the truth, the life. What a journey! And it is still unfolding to this very day within our own hearts and souls, and across the planet, again and again, because he gave us (and gives us every day) the freedom to choose him or not, the freedom to grow in love and trust, to be able to know (and live) a very real universal and most profound love for God and for neighbor.
Photo: St Cecila church, San Francisco, Sunset district


The short and graphic explanation of the 3 steps:
Step 1: Jesus
Step 2: The Communion of Saints
Step 3: the world, the culture, the education system, the media (press and movies), the social media platforms


"Seek and love God" and "See and Love each other". . . . and . . . . my 5 years of musings on the mystery of "from la Creche to the Cross"

first posted on the site Catholic365 here .

- book: Santa's favorite Story by Ivan Gantschev (and his favorite story is the one about Bethlehem) here
- encyclical "Evangelii Nuntiandi" and its emphasis on "befriending whom we want to evangelize" and "being earnest about it" here
- homily : from Fr. Williams Nicholas: what is the impact of the crèche on us? here and see below



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