Br. Michael, ofm
In the Christmas at Greccio 1223 text from the life of St. Francis by Friar Thomas Celano, the account includes the following tidbits of information. “Blessed Francis had John summoned to him some fifteen days prior to the birthday of the Lord. Francis said to him, “hurry before me and carefully make ready the things I tell you. For I wish to enact the memory of that babe who was born in Bethlehem, to see as much as possible how he lay in a manger, and how, with an ox and donkey standing by, he rested on the hay.” So begins the tradition of creating a place to honour the birth of Jesus known as Nativity Scenes.
Do you know where your Nativity Scene (crèche) comes from? Not so much where it was made rather was it gifted to you? Did you purchase it? Is it part of an ongoing collection? Is it a family heirloom? Are their odd pieces or unique characters?
Before I joined the Franciscans, I had collected Nativity Scenes. Some from local artists, others from around the world, others from craft sales and others from department stores. My collection began when my parents gifted me a Nativity Set the Christmas of my Grade 12 year. The collection continued to grow as friends and colleagues gifted Nativity Scenes to me. They would bring them back trips or from unique stops in their shopping. I was always amazed by these beautiful treasures and enjoyed setting them up each year. Each one unique, but like St. Francis and his friend John, each took time to set up.
When I joined the Franciscans, I needed to decide what to do with this large collection. After some pondering, I decided to gift them to a variety of people who had journeyed and accompanied me over the years. I also made sure my nephews and nieces and Godchildren would have a set to begin their Christmas traditions. It was a great joy to be able to share this tradition with others, and to honor the creativity spirit of St. Francis of Assisi and see how others set up the scene.
My now much smaller collection has had two special additions over the past couple of years. After the death of both of my Grandmothers I was gifted their nativity sets. I recall how each of my Grandmothers set up their nativity scenes in a certain way and each in a particular place. I remember as a child standing before them captivated by how they were arranged and how they looked different from the one we had at home. As an adult I stood before them grateful for the gift of Christmas and the foundation of faith my Grandparents had built.
These treasured Nativities which have been a part of my life since my childhood now find a special place in my room for me to ponder with St. Francis “the memory of the babe who was born in Bethlehem.” The simple figures remind me of the connection to my family, my faith, to the Saint of Assisi and to how the story of the birth of Christ is made known and made new for us each year.
I am grateful for how St. Francis had the idea for the crèche which invites us to focus on the true spirit of the season. Beyond the decorations, beyond the carols, the food and the gatherings we come back to a simple, harsh cave and simple crib made from a feedbox where the child was born – our God with us in all the moments of our life.
The gift of the Nativity Scene is an invitation to be present to those who journey with us and those who inspire us. The uniqueness of each Nativity and how it is set up reminds us of the creativity and the gifts we share. As we pause before our Nativity Scenes in this special 800th anniversary year let us do so with grateful hearts praying for our loved ones, our neighbours and our communities.
Let us also prayer for peace in our broken world and for those who are hurting at this time of year.
Who am I being called to be present to this season?
How am I being invited to pause?
How is my relationship with the “Babe born in Bethlehem”?
Praying In The Season:
As you pause before your crèche/nativity pray in thanksgiving for those who have been a guide for in your journey of faith and those who inspire you in your faith journey now.
Turn your prayer into a message of gratitude by sending a gratitude Christmas card or email to these people.
Pray for those who share their creativity and talents by telling stories, creating art, music and places of beauty.
As you decorate your home or write cards and listen to carols be attentive to how the gifts of others bless you.
Continued Advent Blessings