Pounding rain drives us to walk faster along the medieval streets. Here Roman centurions were stationed, here Muslim and Jew lived in the West, here archbishops rode between palace and cathedral and scholars wandered through the world’s first university town – Alcala de Henares. To escape the rain we duck through some ancient doors and find ourselves in an international manger scene exhibition.
Late last year I wrote about how a manger scene can show the connection between Ancient Judea, Christianity and the
Western world. In a sense, this exhibition showed the disconnect in the connection. Most of the manger scenes (or Belen – Bethlehems in Spanish) showed the characteristic culture of their origin. Some Africans bringing their reed gifts to welcome the Christ; some Ecuadorians in Andean sitting reverently around the manger; a Spanish fiesta for the occasion; a German Joseph with moustache standing beside the homely Mary.
Here the reality of first-century Jews was expressed in each culture. I think it is important to see Christ coming into each culture. It is important to see the specific relevance for all people. But we should not forget that Jesus was not African, or Ecuadorian or Spanish or German. Nor should we forget the culture in which people first bore witness to the God, who became incarnate in Jesus.
Even from a purely academic viewpoint, the different manger scenes are interesting examples of cultural transmissions. To what extent was the centre of the message brought to all these people spread across the globe?