by Rev. Mary Frances Thompson, Ministry Assistant Greenwood First Baptist, Field Director for the State Committee for Epiphany
Some years ago, our church was given a beautiful crèche made out of ceramic pottery or some equally breakable material. Part of our Hanging of the Green service each year involves bringing crèche figures down a stone aisle and up a couple of stone steps. The year I was assigned to help bring in the crèche, I was more focused on not dropping the piece than I was on the meaning of the service. Did I mention I am clumsy? When I was growing up the ceramic crèche would have been a “look but don’t touch” item. Sometimes God seems like that, too. The awesomeness of God sometimes causes God to seem untouchable. How do I relate to Someone as great as God? How do I dare to approach the Creator of the universe, the Sovereign over all that was, is, and ever will be?
This year during our Hanging of the Green service, we made a couple of simple, yet profound changes to the way the crèche was brought into the service. We did not use the ceramic crèche. We used a variety of child-friendly Nativity sets from our children and preschooler area. Some of the choices were wooden and large in comparison to the other pieces. Other choices were made of durable plastic. The children were allowed to choose the piece they wished to carry. (Rumor is that there were two baby Jesuses.) Most of the children walked alone down the aisle. At least one older child escorted a younger child who was not her sibling. At least two families, who had dedicated their children during the year, carried those children down the aisle with crèche pieces. One toddler walked down the aisle on wobbly legs as his parents held his hands. Although our pastor had recited the Christmas story from Luke, the children conveyed the real meaning of the story through their actions, without words.
When our parents dedicate a child, the parents promise to raise the child in the knowledge and love of Christ. The church promises to support those parents and to pray for and help nurture the child. The very young children who participated in this year’s Hanging of the Green will not remember the service. Their parents and the rest of the congregation will not soon forget it. As the children grow older they will be told of how they helped lead worship.
Our older children often have opportunities to help our younger children. Years ago, when we first began having times when older and younger children met together, the older children complained about working with the “babies.” Now, most of the older children in our congregation have grown up being helped and then becoming helpers. I have never heard them complain about working with the younger children. What I have heard is reports of an older child helping one of the younger children at school. Our children “get” the concept of being brothers and sisters in Christ.
Most of the congregation did not see one young girl leave her parents and siblings as they walked down the aisle. She chose to give her grandparents a hug and to stay with them instead of approaching the crèche. The child’s action could be interpreted as choosing family over Christ, but I see her actions another way. This child saw someone she loved and chose to share love in a tangible way with that person. She felt comfortable enough during our service to make that choice. The symbolism of taking the crèche to the altar and even of hugging her grandmother were lost on the child. She shared love instinctively and innocently – like a child. Isn’t that how Jesus said we are supposed to come to God?
This year’s creche showed that Jesus came to be among us, in a way that we can touch. The awesome, indescribable God came as a baby, touchable, huggable, and familiar. All ages, sizes, shapes, and appearances were welcomed at the creche two thousand years ago and now. The children who needed help were given help. The children who could make the journey alone were trusted and allowed to approach the altar. I cannot help but think that one day, when these children are old enough to decide to make a profession of faith, the walk down the church aisle will not be intimidating.
Jesus is fully God in all of God’s awesomeness. Jesus deserves our respect and our worship. Yet, Jesus became fully human. Jesus chose to give up his place in Heaven to come to earth to be one of us. Jesus chose to be touchable. Sometimes we need a God who is great enough, powerful enough, insulated enough from our problems to be in control. We need a God we can look at and worship but not touch. At other times we need a God who understands us, who loves us, who accepts us. We need a touchable God. In God’s great mystery, we have a God who satisfies all our needs!