I love this early line from the movie Love Actually! When Lulu Popplewell (as Daisy) proudly announces to Emma Thompson (playing Daisy’s mother Karen) that she has been given the role of 1st Lobster for the Christmas nativity play, I love that she unconsciously hits upon a mystical truth: that at the birth of Jesus, all creation — from the lamb to the lobster, the cattle to the caterpillar — gathered together to honor and celebrate the birthing of God into flesh! All creation!
All creation mystically, ontologically, eternally, present at the Nativity! And the nativity displays in our homes and churches have the artistic opportunity to remind us of all that diversity of creation and humanity … if we allow them to do so, if we intentionally surround ourselves with diverse crèches in this Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season.
(This cartoonish crèche is not an example of the diversity that I am advocating. The figurines’ porcelain whiteness and campy smiles are a disturbing caricature of the White holy families that grace too many nativity sets. From the blond curl on Jesus’ forehead to the cheering pink donkey in the background, this crèche rivals some of the cheesiest I’ve seen!)
Instead, seek out nativity sets that bring creation’s diversity into your home and sanctuary. Display more than one crèche as a reminder of God’s incarnation in more than one region of the world! Arrange multiple sets in the sanctuary chancel or on the altar table, and talk about what makes each crèche similar — and different — with the children during worship.
Celebrate the diversity of creation and of incarnation with a breadth of artistic representations of the Holy Family: from crèches to stained glass windows, illustrated Bibles to Sunday School posters … and not only during the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season but year-round! Let art train your eyes, and let your eyes in turn teach your soul, to recognize God in all of humanity.
Tell your nieces and nephews, your children and your grandchildren and your church-children the story of Jesus’ birth using a beautiful book featuring a diverse Holy Family, such as Margaret Wise Brown’s A Child Is Born with illustrations by Floyd Cooper. Peel away the pristine privilege from our sanitized retelling of Jesus’ birth with the beautifully clumsy artwork of The Nativity by Julie Vivas.
In one way or another — and preferably, in many ways — make room in your Christmas displays and celebrations for all of creation! Take advantage of the seasonal abundance of artwork and nativity displays to remind yourself and your church that the lobster, the lion & the llama join their voices with people from Cairo to Cleveland in praise of Emmanuel’s birth.