Tonight i told a story, and i want to share it with all of you:
“A Real Crèche Story” by Rev. Elizabeth Teal
‘Tis the season for little sheds filled with figures of Marys and Josephs standing beside mangers filled with Baby Jesuses– they’re called crèche, which was the French word for manger, which used to mean a place where animals ate – the old German English word was crib. You know that word, crib – it’s a place where babies sleep.
The first crèche was made by St. Francis, and it had real live animals in it – including human ones! He wanted to tell the True Story of Christmas in a meaningful way… so he made up the crèche (this story is like that – part fact, part story, all true).
It was the night before Christmas, in a small town on a small island off the coast of Maine, and like tonight, many things were happening in many different places.
My grandmother’s cousins had just put all their younger kids to bed and were working on assembling a train set.
The Ladies Auxillary was putting the final touches on the life-size wooden crèche set up outside the Union Church for the Midnight service. My grandmother was rehearsing with the choir.
My mother hadn’t even been born yet…
and a small band of three left-behind dogs were wandering the town in hopes of some scraps… or an open barn door where they could get out of the cold. All summer the children had played with them, given them ice cream and dropped French fries. But as soon as Labor Day came, Summer Vacationers went back to the city, and left them behind. So these three, still homeless, were looking for food and shelter on a bitter winter night.
Meanwhile, the littlest cousin had important Christmas business to attend to. He grabbed his father’s lunchbox that he’d hidden under his bed and he climbed out of his window in his footy pajamas and went to work. (Did I mention that he was only 3?)
When the train set was finished, my great-great-aunt went to kiss the sleeping younger ones before she went to bed… and —
“Huuuuhhhhhhhhhhuuaahhhhhh – hhuuaaaa
The baby was gone! How? Why? When? The window was open and cold air was blowing in… that was a place to begin.
Boots on, and torches in hand (that is an oldie-time word for flashlight), the whole family set off, following the footie footprints in the snow. Did I mention the snow? This was Maine don’t ya’ know…
Meanwhile up at the crèche, the Ladies Auxiliary was having a dreadful time – someone had put, and I quote, “an old dirty ratty tatty crocheted blanket” on the baby Jesus – but every time they tried to get close enough to remove it (“You can’t even see the beautiful carving on the Baby Jesus’ face – it’s Italian!”) a pack of wild dogs charged ’em from behind the wooden donkey – growling and snarling (“Fer crissakes, Gladdie, leave ‘em be, you du’wanna go getting all bit up for Christmas!”).
Just then, the choir started to arrive. Along with the rest of the town. And the Italian Baby Jesus was still swaddled when the choir began to sing…
“O Holy Night…”
Just then, a tired band of pajama-wearing torch-carriers entered the small crowd…
“The stars are brightly shining…”
And the Baby Jesus… sat up.
“A Miracle!” exclaimed the minister.
The choir director fainted.
“Mommy!” he cried, as he reached out his arms. He climbed out , tucking the blanket back, carefully, around the Baby Jesus,
“Mommy. is it Christmas yet?”
“Yes, yes it is…” – she dropped her torch and swooped him into her arms and all three of the supposedly wild dogs came up, wagging their tails.
“We… we were so scared –“
“Well, Mommy, the baby was naked, and Jesus said we supposed to clothe the naked and feed the hungry – so I did.” He held up the lunchbox and the small cocker spaniel nosed it… while the other two wagged patiently.
And still today, so I am told, the Baby Jesus has his own hand-crocheted blanket, now made by the Ladies’ Auxiliary, and they make so many that they give the rest to other newborns just entering this world. Jesus’s no longer Italian (though some of his family still is – his rebirth was carved by a fisherman when the termites got into the barn), and all three dogs that night got homes… as did their offspring…
And we are ALL reminded that in each of us is a little child, who knows we are supposed to clothe the naked (especially when they are cold) and feed the hungry.