The simple depiction of the stable in Bethlehem, with Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus, never ceases to attract. In this nativity depiction the profound mystery of the Incarnation is expressed to both the young and the old, the believer and those who do not, with a natural human beauty which is accessible to all.
The testimony of scripture comes to life. A deeply human scene opens people to the spiritual world and to the great act of God who chose to embrace the human condition. Through the image of the Nativity the Christian faith is presented in a way that we can all relate to: the birth of a child.
The scene of the birth of Christ evokes not only the wonder of the birth of a child, always a source of joy; it also speaks of humility, both the humility of this simple couple and the humility of God in choosing to be born in such conditions.
The nativity scene thus expresses some of the central Christian virtues: poverty, humility, simplicity, joy and love. It speaks eloquently of marriage and family as gifts of God. Above all it reveals the merciful heart of God towards humanity.
In the midst of the busyness and crass materialism of much of our society’s engagement with the Christmas season, the crib enables us to recall ‘the reason for the season’. It draws us to the truth of what we are celebrating.
Pope Francis has recently issued an Apostolic Letter on the “Meaning and Importance of the Nativity Scene”. He urges the Christian people to continue the “beautiful family tradition of preparing the nativity scene in the days before Christmas”.
He reminds us that the practice of assembling a crib comes from what St Francis did in the year 1223 in the little village of Greccio. St Francis asked a local man, John, to prepare a stable from wood and place straw in it and place it in front of the altar. On Christmas night when the people came for the Mass they were moved by this simple depiction of the birth of their Saviour and as Thomas of Celano, St Francis’ biographer commented, “everyone went home with joy”.
The Pope believes that displaying Nativity scenes provides a valuable opportunity “to spread the Gospel”. Speaking in particular to parents and grandparents, the Pope reminds them of the “precious yet demanding process of handing on the faith” and encourages the Christian people to keep alive the practice of having a nativity scene in every Christian home.
This Christmas, I encourage every Catholic family to have a crib in the home and to make it a special focus for the commemoration of the birth of our Saviour.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
December 15, 2019