Richard Johnson, faculty member at Fuller Sacramento, comments on the transformation of “bigger-than-life” biblical characters into ordinary merchants in Oberammergau, Germany.
Each year as Advent begins, the ritual in our home is to unpack very carefully several boxes of decorations—not for the tree; that comes a bit later. These are things we’ve inherited or accumulated that come out during Advent as part of the preparation of the season.
The centerpiece for many years has been a crèche that comes from Oberammergau in southern Germany. As you may know, every ten years the people of Oberammergau stage an elaborate passion play. It goes on for several months, and hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world come to see it. My wife and I were there in 1990, and we, like many of the tourists, decided to purchase a crèche. That region of Germany is known for its sophisticated wood carvings, and so many shops in the small village offer nativity figures crafted by local carvers.
Prime shopping time is during the two-hour lunch break that is taken in the middle of the rather lengthy passion play. And what is remarkable is that in the shops, behind the counters, you will find the villagers, still in costume, whom you have just seen on stage in the passion play. Here is Simon Peter, or Mary Magdalene, or Pontius Pilate—these bigger than life biblical characters into whose drama you have been drawn all morning—but here they are, ordinary people, shopkeepers, artisans, waitresses.
When we unpack that crèche each year, I think about those people, those ordinary people. It is a powerful reminder that the world into which Christ was born was a world of ordinary people. We idealize the characters of the drama in our minds—the steadfast Joseph, the faithful and willing Mary, the eager shepherds. But they, too, were ordinary people.
“I wonder as I wander out under the sky/ how Jesus the Savior did come for to die/for poor, ordinary people like you and like I.” That’s the point, you see: It was among those ordinary people that Jesus was born, and it was for us ordinary people that he came: for us and for our salvation he came down from heaven. “To you is born this day a Savior”—ordinary you. He came for you.