When the miracle of Christ’s birth occurred so many years ago on that very first Christmas, angels proclaimed the joyous news. While Luke’s gospel mentions only the angels’ appearance to the shepherds, numerous legends through the centuries recount that others visited the stable that night to pay homage to the newborn King. And so it was that figures of children began to be included in the traditional Nativity scene.
The history of the creche begins with St. Francis of Assisi. In the year 1224, to dramatize the beautiful Christmas story for the illiterate villagers, he reconstructed the Nativity using a live couple as Mary and Joseph, carved figure for the Baby Jesus and real animals. Over the years, other figures were added to the creche. Shepherds, angels and Wise Men took their places along with the Holy Family and animals in the stable.
However, it was during the opulent Renaissance period that the art of the creche reached its height.
Noblemen commissioned prominent artists to carve hundreds of Nativity figures and devoted entire rooms of their castles to the display of these elaborate creches.
The exquisitely detailed figures frequently resembled the nobleman and his family and were portrayed in the lavish fashions of the day, rather than in the unpretentious robes and garments of ancient Bethlehem. The activities of men and women and children depicted were more in keeping with the trades of medieval Europe than with the simple occupations associated with Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth.
Your Children of Bethlehem sculptures, while crafted in the richly detailed Renaissance style, are representative of children who might actually have visited the stable on that Holy Night. Filled with innocence and awe, they bring their treasures to the Babe in the Manger, symbolizing the faith of people through the ages.
Emmanuel, we stand in awe that you would choose to enter our world as an infant. We gather to see your face, carrying with us all our grief, our despair, our brokenness, and mess, but also our hope. We pray our restoration and our salvation will be complete, as God with Us is celebrated again. Amen.