Beyond the Crèche

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM    December 5, 2021

One year in early January I happened to be working in Rome. Since it was still considered the Christmas season, a friend invited me to join her for a day of visiting some of the neighborhood churches, still fully and festively decorated. I carried with me memories of setting up our family nativity scene each year as Christmas approached. The central figures of Mary, Joseph, and the Infant Jesus were often joined by shepherds and angels and later, by the Magi. So that’s what I expected to see as we neared the first of the local churches.

Nativity village, Italy

Once inside, I was stunned into silence by the enormity of the scene, for the Italian nativity took place not as an isolated event but in the full context of the world of its time. I gazed at an entire, vast village that surrounded the scene of Jesus’ birth. Reverent worshipers knelt and prayed in the temple. Shopkeepers sold their wares of blankets, pots and pans, water jugs, meat and grain. School teachers and students gathered in small rooms of learning. Farriers trimmed the hooves of patient horses and donkeys. Small children engaged in games of hide and seek. Families sat around steaming kettles, intent on breaking bread and filling hungry bellies. Parents tucked their little ones into bed. Somewhere in the middle of all my eyes took in were the Holy Family, the familiar shepherds and angels, the sheep and cattle, yes. But what was striking is that they didn’t exist alone. They were part of a fully formed, colorfully detailed setting.

The rightness of this imagining was clear, for the Incarnation took place not in isolation but in the midst of a world both beautiful and broken. The Italian nativity offered an emphatic, visual statement: Jesus, the Holy One of God, came for all of us, not just a privileged few. Jesus, the Holy One of God, arrived in a world where people were going about their daily lives, sometimes in unrest or chaos or messiness, sometimes in play or peace or contentment. Today, in our time and place, Emmanuel, God-with-us, comes anew, right into the dailiness and seeming ordinariness of our lives. All of our lives.

We often hear this truth proclaimed as “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (John 1:14) I’m rather partial to the Message Bible translation of this same passage: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

The neighborhood, the place where we find God in all things. Our neighborhood. Into this neighborhood, this here and now, Jesus comes again today. He enters into our lives in the midst of whatever might be unfolding. Perhaps this Advent we may be nudged into deep inner soul work, tweaking our patterns of thought or behavior. We may be invited into practices of more engaged prayer. We may be among those who have been numbed by despair in the disappearance of our jobs, in the deep-seated divisions in our country, in the now empty places at our tables. We may be carrying burdens of grief or uncertainty or worry. We may be rejoicing in the birth of a new grandchild or a return to family gatherings after the long winter of the pandemic. However we are, wherever we are, and whatever our life experience may be, Jesus comes again, offering his graced presence and accompaniment.


May the neighborhood into which we welcome him today embody a spirit of welcome and spaciousness of heart. May the neighborhood offer a soft space for the healing of wounds—our own and others’. May it empty us of clutter and the rush of activity and open our hearts to deep listening and availability. May our neighborhood make room for the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, in whatever form the Holy One appears.

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Call to mind your neighborhood, the place where you live and love, work and play. Place yourself and Jesus at the center of this scene.
Ask for the grace to both recognize and welcome him in the dailiness of your life.
Bless your neighborhood. All of your neighborhood.

Featured Image:  Pedro Lasta, Unsplash


I’m grateful to Teddy Michel, Director of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps (IVC) of Northeastern PA, for the invitation to write this reflection for the IVC December newsletter and for permission to re-post it with some tweaking as a blog for Mining the Now. The Ignatian Volunteer Corps provides mature men and women the opportunity to serve the needs of people who are poor, to work for a more just society, and to grow deeper in Christian faith by reflecting and praying in the Ignatian tradition.   

Thank you for holding in your prayer all who were part of the Thanksgiving dinner and other events prepared by Friends of the Poor in Scranton, PA. Because of the support of hundreds of volunteers and the prayerful support of even more friends, over 3,500 complete Thanksgiving dinners were either picked up by guests or delivered to guests in nursing homes. Every year I am in awe of how this incredible feast comes together, and every year I am profoundly grateful for the outpouring of kindness and generosity. May this spirit of gracious giving continue as we move further along on our Advent journey.

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5 thoughts on “Beyond the Crèche”

  1. Thank you Sr. Chris for enlarging the whole Nativity scene to “ a beautiful day in the neighborhood,”
    Blessings upon blessings,

  2. I resonate with your suggestions. And love the reality of the lives of Mary and Joseph. Elizabeth Johnson`s Mary our Sister left a powerful impression on me relative to Mary`s place in her village. Thanks Chris

  3. Thank you for your inspiring words. May God continue to bless you with your abundance of kindness that you share with our world.

  4. You have so many God given gifts. You share them in such a beautiful way. Thank you for staying positive in a very challenging world. May God and Mary bless you. May the Angels keep you safe.Have a wonderful Christmas.

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