On a street quite familiar to those of us in Antrim who have needed medical or dental attention, there is a large outdoor crèche that helps bring a little Christ into Christmas during the holiday season–as it reminds us the Son of God, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23, ESV), “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). I cannot explain why, but I’ve always been partial to nativity sets—there is a peace and calm they project—the carol “Silent Night” comes to mind. And, as I ponder it more I think of another Christmas favorite, “Away in a Manger,” where we learn that “the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head” in a feeding trough because He had “no crib for His bed.” Perhaps the joy and warmth I experience listening to that piece is the same as was felt by “the stars in the bright sky” who “looked down where He lay” and saw “the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.” What a glorious sight!
The outdoor crèche is too large to remove during the off-season, so the owners invite the Holy Family into their home (herding the animals with them) and substitute a large lighthouse. It seems a suitable replacement given that Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12). The Son of God started human life as a defenseless little babe in a manger, but ended it providing the “light of life” (John 8:12) on the cross to those of us who are “children of light” (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
All these pleasant thoughts were brought to a jarring end last week when, heading to spend some time with a bunch of preschoolers at First Friends, I used that familiar street as a shortcut. The crèche was no longer inhabited by a nativity or a lighthouse; instead it had a large pirate skeleton, a couple of vultures, and a jack-o’-lantern. As you can see from the picture, it was pretty well done…and the buccaneer almost looks like he is praying…but the fact that something “holy” had been hijacked by a non-Christian holiday really bugged me.
Is that reasonable? Am I being too sensitive? Or were the homeowners unintentionally being sacrilegious as they were caught up in the spirit of Halloween?
First, nothing on earth today is intrinsically holy; ever since God had His temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. no location or object has been designated as special by Him. That makes sense considering “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). Even the true church isn’t a building–instead it is the believers all over the globe (and throughout the ages) that have put faith in the living God. We are “not of this world” (see John 15:19; 17:14, 16) and our treasures are not on earth but up in heaven (see Matthew 6:19; 19:21).
Even so, treating items that intrinsically represent the Most Holy God with respect isn’t idolatry–unless we carry it so far that we are giving them the worship which is solely reserved for the Godhead. Thinking a Bible shouldn’t be used as a coaster or a sanctuary as a gym (or a crèche as a Halloween decoration) doesn’t mean those things are being venerated. Instead, in a small way it is us realizing, like David, just how great our God is:
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness (Psalm 29:1-2).
And realizing how our heart should be toward Him at all times:
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together! (Psalm 34:1-3)
I look forward to Mary, Joseph, the kings, the animals…and most of all…Jesus, returning to their proper position on that well-known street.