There was exciting news from my mother a few weeks ago. She left a message on our answering machine whilst we were out ferrying the girls to Nutcracker rehearsals. In practically breathless delight she said, "Christen! Guess what!?! We found your creche!"
Now, before you think it, let me say it. I know. Only in the home of a minister does this kind of news warrant more than a raised eyebrow. For we live in a world, I believe, full of lost creches. I could get all sentimental about putting "the Christ back in Christmas" and "remembering the reason for the season," but frankly, those lines are getting a bit trite and tired and overused and we've all seen them on too many church billboards on the backroads for the past month. In my life, the symbol of the missing creche works a bit better, for at the heart of this season there is, for me, still a hollowness.
There is something sacred for me about remembering the quiet stable, and what happened in the dark, rather than expending all our energy trying to aim the bright light of the season on that quiet space in Bethlehem. But, now I'm losing you, aren't I? For I'm starting to sound all preachery. When actually I'm preaching to myself...the woman who is awake at 2:51 a.m. sifting through the quiet spaces of her own memory to search for the God who meets her in the dark.
The creche somehow had gotten lost on one of my many moves from college to seminary to my first pastorate to my home now. I think it got stored in my parents home for "safe keeping," where it lay buried until they moved into a new home last year.
It is not a remarkable creche. It's plastic. I'd not call it exactly "politically correct" as creches go. One of the three kings is clearly modeled after one of those wretched racist lawn jockeys from the 1950s. A few of the lambs don't stand up right and sort of have to lay sideways at the baby Jesus's feet. I sort of imagine them as slain in the spirit. Because I don't like imagining the SPCA folks breathing down my neck, I made an executive decision this year and refrained from displaying the one menacing shepherd who is holding a stick up as if to beat the hell out of any of his poor flock. I never liked him anyway, and his plastic is a little warped so he falls over all the time like Paul when the scales fell from his eyes.
But this creche has mileage. It is one of my earliest memories of Advent. And as such, it has found a home in our library this year. When I was a little girl my parents made sure the creche was accessible to me. It was always on a low table in the living room where I was invited to wrap my sticky fingers around the pieces and reenact the main event. Sometimes I would fly the angel over the whole shebang while singing The Gloria Patri. Sometimes I would line all the figurines up for a parade and pretend that they were going to McDonalds for Big Macs. Sometimes a cat would knock the baby Jesus out of his manger and he'd be missing for days on end. The creche was real to me as a child in a way that it isn't as I've grown older. The creche held a mystery, yes, but it was a mystery that my seven-year-old mind accepted unequivocally. I confess that some of that has been lost as I've aged.
However, having said all that, I proclaim proudly now: I found the creche this year. And in so finding, am spiraling my way back to that dark place where God finds me, indeed, where God finds all of us. Breathing quietly in the stillness.