Nothing says Christmas like a Nativity set
Published 10:43 am Friday, December 19, 2014
By Cathy Hay
Whether tiny or large, brightly colored or simply white, made of plastic or plaster, the Nativity sets tell the story of Jesus Christ’s birth with no cultural barrier. That’s the idea behind the crèche walk at First Lutheran Church in Albert Lea.
The church celebrates Advent — a Christian time of preparation for celebrating the coming of Jesus — with a weekly series of meditative music and tasty meals during the lunch hour on Wednesdays. When planning this season’s Advent Adventures, Tim O’Shields wanted to complement the sounds and tastes with something visual. O’Shields is director of music, worship and the arts at First Lutheran, and he was looking for ways to connect with the community.
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“I wanted it to be a full experience,” he said. “I thought crèches — Nativity sets — take you to Bethlehem. There’s something raw and powerful about crèches.”
The result is an impressive and inspirational display of 70-plus Nativity sets in several parts of the church. O’Shields credits Cindy Gilbert with securing the loan of many sets from church members and Julie Lokken for artfully arranging them.
One set is cut from wood and left bare. Others are hand-painted or clear glass. One whimsical set consists of mouse characters.
The crèche that stands out to O’Shields is in the main entrance to the sanctuary. That’s because he and volunteers found it broken in pieces in church storage. Though strewn among several boxes, all the parts were there, including the head to one of the wise men.
“I just knew it was a spectacular set. It had to be restored,” he said.
O’Shields started by gluing pieces back together. Then he fixed nicks in the plaster with spackle. Finally he painted them, mixing colors when needed.
Originally donated by Rodger and Karen Christenson, the set consists of large figures, some standing 18 inches high. As told in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, the set includes all the figures from the story: An angel to announce the birth of Christ to shepherds and their flocks, who then visit the humble site where Jesus is found lying in a manger with Mary and Joseph at his side. Wise men on camels follow a star to the Christ child, bringing him gold, frankincense and myrrh, the root of gift-giving at Christmas.
The first-ever Nativity scene recorded in history was created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. He was concerned that the meaning of Christmas was becoming lost amidst the ritual of gift-giving. Determined to remind people of the true message of Christ’s birth, St. Francis created the first known Nativity scene, which took place with live people and animals in a cave near Greccio, Italy. By the 1300s static Nativity sets appeared as display pieces in Italian churches and eventually in homes.
Nativity sets still bring the message home to the birth of Christ. “They say joy to the world in every sense,” O’Shields said.
The public is welcome to experience the crèche walk before and after church services at 8 and 10:30 a.m. Sunday, Christmas Eve services at 4, 6 and 10:30 p.m. and Christmas Day service at 10 a.m. The church will be open from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, when a student recital is being held in the sanctuary so quiet is required.
First Lutheran is at 301 W. Clark St. in Albert Lea.