By Msgr. Jonas Achacoso, JCD
Every Christmas in my parish, we change the theme of our crèche decoration. The proposed theme for this year of the National Eucharistic Revival is “Bethlehem, the house of bread.”
The emphasis is that Jesus, the Bread of Life from heaven, was born in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means “the house of bread.” We believe that this is no mere coincidence but rather a part of the marvelous plan of God. Jesus, of course, could have been born elsewhere. He could have been born in Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary lived and where he eventually grew up. He was born in Bethlehem precisely because the Messiah was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem, from which shall come a ruler to shepherd the people of God (cf. Mt. 2:6). And so it happened.
Several years ago, the theme proposed for the crèche was “messianic.” For that, we set up the crèche in different levels. The highest point was the manger with Baby Jesus and his parents, Mary and Joseph. Above them was the star emanating golden rays over the mystery that happened on the first Christmas. At a lower level on the right side of the crèche were the Three Kings with their gifts and colorful camels. On the opposite side were the shepherds.
At the center, right below the Holy Family, was cascading water giving life to the crèche by the soothing sound of its drippings.
The water from the little falls went down to a pristine lake which was surrounded by verdant meadows where we put different animals. Among many, we had ferocious lions and savage tigers, all together with meek lambs and harmless goats.
The spectacle intended was the messianic sign in accordance with the prophecy in Isaiah 11: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair” (verses 6-8).
One parishioner beholding this sight commented to me, “I haven’t seen something like this before. This is unique. Is this how they set up the crèche in the Philippines?”
I laughed at the compliment and took it as a perfect catechetical occasion to talk precisely about the messianic signs for the birth of Jesus.
Then we continued to behold the nativity scene, commenting on the different figurines of animals. One among the group offered to contribute more figurines. I took the offer and asked her for one more animals that would make a meaningful presence in the crèche. I asked for a “black sheep.” And she took the challenge to find one.
Two weeks later, she came back and was desperate to tell me that she had been to several stores, but she could not find the black sheep for the crèche. She instead handed me six sheep, which would really blend well with the other animals in the scene, but they were all white. Then we all agreed to paint one of the white sheep black.
Jesus, the Messiah, was born precisely for the sinners, the lost black sheep. He tells us this parable: “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance (Lk. 15: 4-7).
From then on until now, there has always been a black sheep in our crèche.
Msgr. Achacoso is the author of “Due Process in Church Administration” (2018), recipient of Arcangelo Ranaudo Award (Vatican), and pastor of Corpus Christi Church in Woodside