Today's Valley News Dispatch has a sad story about the vandalism of the nativity display of the First United Methodist Church of New Kensington.
Here at Central in Tarentum, we feel a connection to First United Methodist because our church secretary is a member of that congregation. But this act of vandalism affects all churches in the area, as it reminds us of the opposition we face in announcing good news to people who are not yet ready to hear it.
Churches have been using creche scenes for centuries to explain the nativity of Jesus Christ. According to many sources (here, for example) St. Francis of Assisi first used a creche scene in 1223. St. Francis is the one credited with saying "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, with words." Long before churches discovered overhead projectors or PowerPoint, St. Francis used the creche as a visual object lesson to illustrate his message as he proclaimed the Gospel.
The creche at First United Methodist was intended to give people hope and help them understand that life is not measured by consumption or by how much one can purchase. God gives meaning to our lives through the One who entered into the world with the vulnerability of an infant intended to be a servant to all.
One of the discouraged church members is reported to have said, "Now we've got the manger but nothing to go in it." In fact, although the surroundings were destroyed, the figure of the Christ-child was safe inside the church waiting to be placed in the manger on Christmas eve. Although we annually re-enact the story, the real gift of Christmas is already inside the Church.
Update: WPXI is carrying a video story that the vandals were three boys in the neighborhood and were turned in by their mother.
File under: New Kensington, evangelism