In many homes, the festive decorating for Christmas is underway. A tree festooned with lights, baubles and tinsel bathes the living room in soft magical light. As a child, I delighted in falling asleep in the light of the tree.
It is time to prepare the Christmas crèche. The crèche invites us to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became one of us to encounter every woman and man. The crèche depicts this mystery of His great love for us so that we might become one with Him.
Coming into the world, the Son of God was laid in the place where animals feed. Hay became the first bed of the One who would reveal himself as “the bread come down from heaven” (Jn 6:41).
The Franciscan Sources describe in detail what took place in December 1223. Fifteen days before Christmas, Saint Francis of Assisi asked a local man to help him realize his desire “to bring to life the memory of that babe born in Bethlehem, to see as much as possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger, with an ox and ass standing by, he was laid upon a bed of hay.”
The man began immediately to prepare all that Francis asked. On December 25, people brought flowers and torches to light up the night. When Francis arrived, he found a manger full of hay, an ox and a donkey standing by.
The priest then solemnly celebrated the Eucharist in this cave, showing the bond between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist. On that Christmas there were no statues; the nativity scene was enacted and experienced by all who were present.
This December 25th, 2023 marks the 800th anniversary of the first crèche of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Let us observe this anniversary by taking some time to reflect on the mystery of God’s mercy in the birth of His Son.
Fr. Steve Adrian