Last year Kathryn (partner of 44 years) and I were in India for Christmas. We were guests of a devout Hindu family, but they had a Christmas Tree in the hall and there was the exchange of presents on Christmas Eve. The tree was small, and in front and below a picture of Krishna. So of course it was called (by those of us from the West) the Krishna Tree.
Still, our hosts were glad to include our celebration of Jesus Christ as the Incarnation of God in their own realm of attention. Several family members only vaguely got the details of the story that goes along with the affirmation, but most got the idea, that we Christians believe that in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. This did not surprise them. They were only surprised that we did not give this affirmation to any others.
This year we were back home in Lewes, the small town on the edge of the bay and beside the big water. Here with high winds and cold weather the preparations for Christmas went on in more usual ways. The big delight was that our whole family was able to get together for the first time in several years. Children and grandchildren, spouses and partners, dogs, the whole lot. And along with all the usual stuff we put op or small nativity scene, made in clay by my mother some years ago. All we have are the three kings, Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.
When I was growing up we lived in Latin America and our nativity had all the usual characters, in ceramic, plus a variety of animals, some cows, horses, pigs, camels, etc, but also monkeys, kangaroos, giraffes and (my favorite) an anteater. It seemed reasonable to me as a kid that animals from all over the world could witness to the birth along with the regular staff of the nativity scene. In my small child's mind the whole creation had the joyful right to be there.
This Christmas, remembering our visit to India last Christmas, and the summer mission trip to Navajo and Hopi lands, the scene includes in addition to the Three Wise People, two others: Ganesha, Lord of Beginnings and Lord of Obstacles, patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom, came from India and a variant on Corn Woman, carved as a Kachina. The kachina has other characteristics, some of which I don't understand at all. Then again I don't understand all of the bits and pieces of information on Ganesha either. What I do know is that these wisdom figures, like the three wise ones, are representative of the wisdom of the wider non Jewish world. That wisdom was an odd mixture of the purely practical, the philosophical, and the broad reach to find wisdom "out there" in a world in which the natural and super natural met.
So they come to the Christ Child tableau along with the there wise ones, as a sign that wherever the wisdom comes from, it is met in the "Thee" this night, and their work (as images or signs or presence) is completed in this business of God with us.
In an attempt to honor the vision and wisdom of other communities I will make mistakes - being too simplistic in thinking I have any real idea of what is going on - but I do believe we need to remind ourselves that wisdom comes from many sources and that, as Christians, we believe that all wisdom finally is of God who will direct that wisdom to the same place that our own drives us - to the Incarnation.
The last stop on the wisdom train is love - seen in all of nature and in the best of our relationships - and the declaration at that stop says, "God is Love." I tried to listen to people who spoke of Ganesha as a reflection of God as someone with us in our beginnings and obstacles, provoking us to right action and life in harmony with the reality of the natural order. I try to listen to people who speak of the gift of simple staple foods, corn in this case, and of the sacred tasks of providing for the world. And oddly, those Eastern gentle persons who brought gifts fit for a king remind us that we have found in Jesus one worthy of our allegiance and offering of self.
I wonder, in this polyglot sort of Christmas nativity scene, is there a beginning point for further conversations about the role of wisdom in the preparation for receiving the news that God is present among us in Jesus Christ?
With all created beings and with wisdom from all peoples, may we gather together what is needed in our witness to God's action in Jesus Christ?
Merry Christmas season to all.