Editorial Note: This series features Nativity sets from Africa on display in the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s Sixth Annual International Crèche Exhibit.
One of the classic Christmas Gospel passages is the genealogy of Jesus, a seemingly endless recitation of the men and women with all-but-unpronounceable names who form Jesus’ lineage (see Matthew 1:1–17). Though it often seems more like a history lesson than a joyful proclamation, that lineage constitutes the living, colorful reality into which Christ was born. It is a complicated history, peopled with heroes, sinners, and ordinary men and women. “The Tent,” a crèche created by an unknown Kenyan artisan, perfectly captures that vibrant human reality. The tent, though only a temporary dwelling, is open to all who come and welcomes them with love. The cheerful faces of the chaotic crowd gathering around Jesus suggest the joyful confusion of large family reunions, complete even to the addition of some quarreling animals. Angels mingle casually with the crowd, climbing the sides of the tent and leaning against Mary—a beautiful example of how close heaven has come to earth. Yet through all this crowded, momentous celebration, the Babe sleeps peacefully, perfectly content in the crowded human family he has chosen.
The peaceful sleep of the Christ Child gently reminds us that, though angels announce his birth and magi visit with rich gifts, the life of Jesus will be a humble, ordinary life. In another creche, “African Symphony” by Ghanan artist Mohammed Amin, this beautiful mundanity of Jesus’ family is depicted from another view. Though the title refers to the musicians in the background, joyfully welcoming Jesus with their instruments, the gentle ceramic figures of this crèche exude a peaceful calm. In the foreground, Joseph watches tenderly over Mary as she rests close beside her Son. His simple dress and bowed head remind us that Jesus’ childhood would have known the humble work of carpentry which supported the Holy Family. As Mary sleeps, the animals surround her with quiet reverence as they drowsily crowd close to the Prince of Peace. Indeed, in the dramatic music of the world, Christ enters as a still, small voice. He enters into the fullness of human life, equally prepared for the exuberant joys and deep sorrows of family life. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas with whatever joyful or complicated families we share, let us remember that Christ entered into the world not as a mighty Judge, but a vulnerable Child. May we have the courage to seek his peace this Christmas and always.
Images courtesy of the Marian Library, University of Dayton.