Page 4 - Michael Journal March 2020
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u      This is how our tradition began: with everyone
        gathered  in  joy  around  the  cave,  with  no  distance
        between the original event and those sharing in its
            Thomas of Celano, the first biographer of Saint
        Francis, notes that this simple and moving scene was
        accompanied by the gift of a marvellous vision: one
        of those present saw the Baby Jesus himself lying in
        the manger. From the nativity scene of that Christmas
        in 1223, “everyone went home with joy”.
            With the simplicity of that sign, Saint Francis car-
        ried out a great work of evangelization. His teaching
        touched the hearts of Christians and continues today
        to offer a simple yet authentic means of portraying
        the beauty of our faith. Indeed, the place where this
        first nativity scene was enacted expresses and evokes        Francis signs his apostolic letter in
        these sentiments. Greccio has become a refuge for            Greccio, on the very spot where the
        the soul, a mountain fastness wrapped in silence.          Christmas Mass of 1223 was celebrated.
            Why does the Christmas crèche arouse such
        wonder and move us so deeply? First, because it      I? Where do I come from? Why was I born at this
        shows God’s tender love: the Creator of the uni-     time in history? Why do I love? Why do I suffer? Why
        verse lowered himself to take up our littleness. The   will I die? It was to answer these questions that God
        gift of life, in all its mystery, becomes all the more   became man. His closeness brings light where there
        wondrous as we realize that the Son of Mary is       is darkness and shows the way to those dwelling in
        the source and sustenance of all life. In Jesus, the   the shadow of suffering (cf. Lk 1:79).
        Father has given us a brother who comes to seek us       With what emotion should we arrange the moun-
        out whenever we are confused or lost, a loyal friend   tains, streams, sheep and shepherds in the nativity
        ever at our side. He gave us his Son who forgives us   scene!  As  we  do  so,  we  are  reminded  that,  as  the
        and frees us from our sins.                          prophets had foretold, all creation rejoices in the
            Setting up the Christmas crèche in our homes     coming of the Messiah. The angels and the guiding
        helps us to relive the history of what took place in   star are a sign that we too are called to set out for the
        Bethlehem. Naturally, the Gospels remain our source   cave and to worship the Lord.
        for understanding and reflecting on that event. At the   “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing
        same time, its portrayal in the crèche helps us to im-  that has happened, which the Lord has made known
        agine the scene. It touches our hearts and makes us   to us” (Lk 2:15). So the shepherds tell one another
        enter into salvation history as contemporaries of an   after the proclamation of the angels. A beautiful les-
        event that is living and real in a broad gamut of his-  son  emerges  from  these  simple  words.  Unlike  so
        torical and cultural contexts.                       many  other  people,  busy  about  many  things,  the
            In a particular way, from the time of its Francis-  shepherds become the first to see the most essential
        can origins, the nativity scene has invited us to “feel”   thing of all: the gift of salvation. It is the humble and
        and “touch” the poverty that God’s Son took upon     the poor who greet the event of the Incarnation. The
        himself in the Incarnation. Implicitly, it summons us   shepherds respond to God who comes to meet us in
        to follow him along the path of humility, poverty and   the Infant Jesus by setting out to meet him with love,
        self-denial that leads from the manger of Bethlehem   gratitude and awe. Thanks to Jesus, this encounter
        to the cross. It asks us to meet him and serve him by   between God and his children gives birth to our reli-
        showing mercy to those of our brothers and sisters in   gion and accounts for its unique beauty, so wonder-
        greatest need (cf. Mt 25:31-46).                     fully evident in the nativity scene.
            I  would  like  now  to  reflect  on  the  various  ele-  Gradually, we come to the cave, where we find
        ments of the nativity  scene in order to appreciate   the  figures  of  Mary  and  Joseph.  Mary  is  a  mother
        their deeper meaning. First, there is the background   who contemplates her child and shows him to every
        of a starry sky wrapped in the darkness and silence of   visitor. The figure of Mary makes us reflect on the
        night. We represent this not only out of fidelity to the   great  mystery  that  surrounded  this  young  woman
        Gospel accounts, but also for its symbolic value. We   when God knocked on the door of her immaculate
        can think of all those times in our lives when we have   heart. Mary responded in complete obedience to the
        experienced the darkness of night. Yet even then,    message of the angel who asked her to become the
        God does not abandon us, but is there to answer our   Mother of God. Her words, “Behold I am the hand-
        crucial questions about the meaning of life. Who am   maid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your

        6      MICHAEL  January/February 2020                                 
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