At St. Michael’s Church, since Christmas Eve, the Three Wise Men of St. Michael’s creche collection have been waiting at a long distance from the manger for their meeting with the new-born baby boy. They’ve been on the altar from St. Jude’s Chapel. They’ll move to the Creche itself on Epiphany.
We don’t know anything about the St. Michael’s Creche figures. We seem to have had this set for a long time.
In the mid-twentieth century, Rev. William Corker put creche figures at Christmas in the arches of the outdoors Amsterdam Avenue porch. He had to discontinue the practice because of attempts to steal the figures. Similarly, after St. Jude’s Chapel closed, Corker tried to maintain a twenty-four hour “Wayside Chapel’ on the porch: the St. Jude’s Altar was the centerpiece of the Chapel. But here, too, vandalism threats soon forced Corker to give up on the Wayside Chapel. It was a discouraging blow to Corker’s hope for evangelization in the changing neighborhood.
A photograph from the generous Corker-Holzer Archives Gift (2012) isn’t quite clear enough to enable us to be sure that the current Creche was the one Corker put on Amsterdam Avenue. It is tempting to imagine that the Creche figures we now see every Christmas were witness to – and part of – the world of the mid-twentieth century Upper West Side … but we can’t be sure.
Nowadays, where is the Creche when it’s not Christmas? The figures reside on top of vestment and storage cabinets in the Lower Sacristy. At any time during the year, priests and deacons, acolytes and altar guild members, vestry members and wardens can look up to see Mary and Joseph, animals, angels, shepherds and kings: the plaster figures can remind anyone who cares to wonder about it just where we are in the liturgical year.
According to our Christmas legends, the Three Kings were already wise before they came to see Jesus: their wisdom, indeed, compelled them to follow the star to look for the Savior. Their wisdom was then deepened and blessed by what they found in Bethlehem. Now, more than two thousand years later, the Three Kings ask us: Who is wise? What creates wisdom?
At St. Michael’s, on the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Three Kings move from the St. Jude’s Altar to Jesus’ manger-crib at the front of the nave, we are reminded that the history of St. Jude’s Chapel calls us to truth-telling. Without this, we have no claim to any wisdom of our own.
January 4, 2018