Roughly carved and painted with the soft strokes of a folk artist’s love, the figures are gentle testimony to the Gospel’s Nativity story. They bear the honest simplicity of faith; there is little adornment and yet no doubt about each character. There is a shepherd, two nuggets of sheep, Joseph and Mary and an inch long manger bearing a smiling child. And then the three kings, gifts and cultures defined by strokes and color. And so they speak in the very silence of their configuration.
Humility emanates from the scene. After all, it is about honoring the miracle of birth, a birth intriguing and even beguiling in implications. Most importantly, each character allows the Infant’s story to supersede and yet become part of their own. That is the shared task for all who dare to kneel before the manger or even fashion such figures. There is a trust in living and a hope in life that defies the complexities of 2020 and the mysteries of this millennium.
Inequalities collapse before this scene: economic class, gender, race, fail to delineate a hierarchy. Instead, it is about a shared vision and view of the world, the beauty of beginning again. The Nativity story invites each to that moment of realization, that here is a chance to begin again wherever we are, whatever the chricumstances are. It invites us to realize the strength and beauty of others, to trust in the goodness that is born in them and the wonder that draws them, too, to the manger.
It is unnerving to dispose of the pretenses that life provides: the roles, the choices, the impressions and even the narratives. But here, before the manger, none of those are needed. To dare to conspire with the divine, the self must dare to be known in every phase of reality. Kneeling there means realizing life is continually exploring the wonder of relationships, of the dance between the human and the divine. It means accepting that life is difficult and challenging, but love sustains and empowers. It means brokenness, imperfection, and confusion are part of what it means to be human. Before the manger, this is known and understood. A handful of tiny, handcarved figures confide greater secrets than we may have imagined, but most importantly, they invite us to a deeper, stronger, epiphany.
“Epiphany” is an insight, a deepened understanding, a recognition of something that always was but now can be seen. In the history of the Church, the three kings arrival is celebrated as the Epiphany. “Epiphany” is so much more: it belongs to everyone who embraces the journey and dares to seek the Child in the manger. Discovering more about who we are and what exactly is “divine” is the chance given to all of us, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, the strong and the fearful. Daring to be simple, daring to believe. Daring to hold the hand carved figures and wonder what the message really is for me.