One of my favorite Christmas treasures is my Nativity scene of French santons. Santons, translated as “little saints,” are small, hand-painted terra-cotta figurines that come from the Provence region of France. The santons of Provence took their inspiration from the first living Nativity scene created in 1223 by St. Francis of Assisi. A typical Provence creche includes 55 figures representing not only Mary, Joseph, the three Wise Men,the Christ child, and stable animals, but also the traditional characters of the Provençal village life. You can count on finding le boulanger (the baker), la fleuriste (the flower lady), the milk maid, the lavender seller, the wine maker, the fish wife, the priest, the artist, each come to see for themselves the new babe in the manger.
Santons were created during the French Revolution when all the doors of churches and chapels were forcibly closed by the revolutionaries, inspiring family’s to make their own stable scenes in secret, defying the threat of the guillotine. The French Nativity scene speaks so beautifully to the message of Christmas. Not only do we witness the birth of a Savior, but we are also, whether young or old, priest or baker, invited to draw closer to the manger’s edge of holiness. It promises to be a sacred meeting where the gap between the human and the divine is bridged by Love. We must never forget for whom and for what reason that baby was sent to earth. God revealed Himself in the flesh to remind us of the compassion, mercy, healing, hope, and love freely offered to all. But also by incarnating in the flesh and blood of our likeness, God revealed His hopes for humanity.
Whether baker, wine-maker, wise man, shepherd, you or me, God fashioned each one of us with a hope that we would live out of our humanity as divinely as possible. God reminded us that we too, like his Son, have the ability to mend creation and love extravagantly. A visit to the manger this Christmas is a holy reminder of God’s love for all of us, but it is also a call to action. God gave us a gift that first Christmas morning, a beautiful example in Jesus of how we can live and love in this world. May we each choose to leave the Stable this year by a different road just as those three Wise Men did over 2,000 years ago, changed, inspired, empowered to be better versions of ourselves, to reveal through the patina of our humanity, our spark of Divinity.
Live in Hope,