“Images of That Holy Night,” New Era, Dec. 2003, 21
When you hear the word crèche, what do you think of? The word literally means crib or manger, but it has come to mean any depiction of the Savior’s birth, or Nativity. For Aileen Akagi, 17, the word crèche doesn’t remind her of only one nativity scene—it reminds her of roughly 600 of them! As a member of the Midway Fourth Ward, Midway Utah Stake, she has volunteered at the Interfaith Crèche Exhibit for three years in a row.
The exhibit was started several years ago by Sister Holly Zenger, an adult member of the Midway stake, as a small exhibit in her home. It has since become a community event, supported by people of many faiths. Each year, during the first week of December, people lend their nativity scenes from all over the world to be displayed in the Midway stake center. Roughly 4,300 visitors come each year.
“It’s interesting to see the different styles of nativity scenes,” Aileen says. Seeing how diverse cultures portray the Christ child’s birth reminds her of how well-known the Christmas story is.
Volunteers set up the exhibits, monitor them, and lead children’s activities. Although Aileen has done a little of each, she spends most of her time running the marionette show for children. She organizes young women into groups who perform scenes from the Nativity with puppets. The show runs every 20 minutes.
“The first year we did the marionette show, one little boy brought his grandma to see it four times in a row,” Aileen laughs.
Throughout the show, the young women and audience sing Christmas songs. “One year, we finished by singing ‘Silent Night’ (Hymns, no. 204), and all the children and their parents joined in. It sounded like more than the audience was there—like angels were singing.”
Seeing so many images of that holy night causes Aileen to reflect on what Mary must have experienced. “I couldn’t imagine being as young as she was and taking on her responsibility. How overwhelming to have a baby and know that He was the Savior! She must have been a very virtuous, spiritual woman. I wish I could speak to her and find out what she felt.”
Aileen has also been touched when thinking of the shepherds. “They may have been lowly in status, yet they were important because they cared for sheep. To me, they symbolize the Son of God and what He does for us.”
The greatest thing Aileen has pondered? “If I had been there to witness the Savior’s birth, how would I have lived my life afterwards, knowing that I had seen the Christ?”
Most likely she would have lived her life as she already does—as a Latter-day Saint committed to service and willing to bear testimony of the Savior who was laid in a manger—a crèche—so long ago.
Mary, descended from King David, was Joseph’s cousin (see James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 86). Scriptures indicate that she, too, had been called to her earthly role in the premortal world (see Isa. 7:14; 1 Ne. 11:15–19; Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10). Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote, “As the Father chose the most noble and righteous of all his spirit sons to come into mortality as his Only Begotten in the flesh, so we may confidently conclude that he selected the most worthy and spiritually talented of all his spirit daughters to be the mortal mother of his Eternal Son” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, vol. 1, 85).
As prophesied, a new light in the heavens confirmed that the Light of the World had been born (see Num. 24:17; Matt. 2:2; Hel. 14:5; 3 Ne. 1:21). According to some traditions, even unbelievers could not ignore the sign. A letter from Ignatius to the Ephesians, dated A.D. 100, reads, “A star shone in heaven beyond all the other stars, and its light was inexpressible, and its novelty struck terror into men’s minds. All the rest of the stars, together with the sun and moon, were the chorus to this star … that sent out its light exceedingly above them all. And men began to be troubled to think whence this new star came so unlike to all the others” (Ensign, Oct. 1981, 26).
During Jesus’ day, inns offered travelers safety and shelter from the weather but no privacy. Guests spread their blankets on the floor wherever they could find space. Animals were tied up in an inner courtyard or housed in a stable, which was often a limestone cave. Here, amid mules and camels, the Son of God made His entrance into mortality. It was one of the lowliest places, but at this busy time in Bethlehem, it may have also been the most private (see Ensign, Dec. 1997, 40).
Joseph was the Christ child’s guardian. Though a humble carpenter, Joseph was of royal blood (see Matt. 1). If the kingdom of Judah had not been ruled by the Romans when Jesus was born, Joseph would have been king and Jesus would have inherited the throne—literally becoming King of the Jews (see Jesus the Christ, 87).
We do not know the identities of the angelic messengers who appeared to Joseph in a dream (see Matt. 1:20) or to the shepherds (see Luke 2:9–14). But it was the angel Gabriel who spoke to Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, and to Mary (see Luke 1:5–19, 28–38). In mortality, Gabriel was known as Noah (see Bible Dictionary,”Gabriel,” 676).
Humble shepherds were among the first to know that the Messiah had come (see Luke 2:10–11). Perhaps angels appeared to these shepherds because their labor contributed to temple work. Under the law of Moses, firstborn sheep without blemish were sacrificed on temple altars, symbolizing Christ’s infinite and eternal sacrifice. By law, only sheep chosen for temple sacrifice could be raised near the city, so the shepherds were probably caring for these consecrated animals—symbols of the Savior born that night (see Ensign, Dec. 1997, 43).
No nativity scene seems complete without Wise Men, but they weren’t there on that holy night. They later found Jesus in a house, perhaps when he was two years old. After the Wise Men’s visit, Herod decreed that all children under age two in Bethlehem were to be killed. He probably based his decree on information given him by the Wise Men, who had told him how long ago the star had appeared.
We don’t know how many Wise Men there were, but three are traditionally shown because of the three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The scriptures tell us that they came from the east. Some say that they were the kings of Tarshish, Sheba, and Seba. Others say they were noblemen from Persia or Babylonia. No one knows exactly where these holy men came from, but they knew and believed in the prophecies of the Messiah’s birth, and they followed the Spirit and the new star to find Him. (See Matt. 2:1–16 and Ensign, Oct. 1981, 25.)
Mary and Joseph, alone with animals in the stable, were the first to see their Creator in the flesh. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated, “At the focal point of all human history, … probably no other mortal watched—none but a poor young carpenter, a beautiful virgin mother, and silent stabled animals who had not the power to utter the sacredness they had seen” (“Without Ribbons and Bows,” New Era, Dec. 1994, 6).
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6).