Friday, December 7, 2007

Crisis of the Crèche

The crisis has been averted. Whew!

Yes, I'm referring to the annual crisis of the Crèche, you know the Nativity scene that adorns the town hall. In most small towns (and some not so small), good-hearted citizens put up the manger scene for all the town to admire.

This year in our town, an organization wrote a complaint to the town board and based it on the constitutional separation of church and state. The group is a Jewish organization, and to be fair to them, they opposed erecting a large menorah on public ground in the town next door. You should have seen the flurry of bitter responses in the paper. "They're taking away Christmas!" "What is the world coming to?" "We're a Christian country, dammit!"

Today it was revealed that the organization withdrew its complaint because they did not want to sow dissension in the town. Again, I say, "Whew!"

Of course, this crisis comes up every year. Somebody who is not Christian gets upset because they see the annual decoration as official recognition of Christianity as our religion. I secretly suspect that some of the complaints come from people who just like to complain, but others are sincere.

Our clergy bible study discussed this issue, and we all came to the same conclusion: Either open the public grounds for displays of any group that is celebrating some sort of "festival" – and yes, that would include those with abhorrent ideologies like the KKK – or skip the displays altogether. Constitutionally, I don't see any alternative.

But as a pastor, I say to the outrages masses of the town, "Get a life." Those who scream that our religion is under attack because somebody doesn't want a crèche in front of town hall (or doesn't want to say "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance or begin school with an official prayer) must have a pretty weak faith. Who cares if we have a crèche on public grounds? Christianity went its first 1200 years celebrating Christ without a single nativity set. The Feast of the Incarnation is all about Jesus becoming one of us, not about whose plastic manger scene can light up the village.

We don't need the manger to celebrate the one born in it. If we depend on the symbols instead of the faith itself, we are missing the point. If we say our faith is "taken away" because the symbols are, then I believe we are guilty of idolatry.

The Crèche is a fine reminder of God humility in sending his Son to be one of us. It is not the event itself, however.

So, I don't mind seeing the nativity scene at town hall. And I wouldn't mind if it wasn't there. As long as Christ himself is always with us.