Now that we have entered the season of Advent, many people will begin getting out their Christmas decorations, particularly the crèche or nativity scene. St. Francis of Assisi created the nativity scene in the Italian town of
Greccio during Christmas, 1223, just three years before his death. Francis wanted to demonstrate for people Christ’s poverty. He said, “I wish to do something that will recall to memory the little Child who was born in Bethlehem and set before our bodily eyes in some way the inconveniences of his infant needs, how, with an ox and an ass standing by, he lay upon the hay where he had been placed.” Remembering that Christ was poor encourages us to see him in people who are poor, as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel passage, “When I was hungry you gave me food…whenever you did this for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.”
Often today our crèches are pretty, even beautiful. St. Francis’ point of remembering Jesus’ poverty is lost. In the atrium at St. Anne this Advent and Christmas season is a display of crèches that help us to see the Holy Family in poor and marginalized people. These nativity scenes come from Palestine, Kenya, Egypt, Peru and Zimbabwe. In viewing this display you will be helped to see Jesus, Mary and Joseph in families today who flee persecution and war, in families who are poor, in families who recycle because they cannot afford anything new, and in families (who like the Holy Family) are not white.
The crèche is more than a familiar and sentimental sign of Christmas; the crèche preaches the Gospel to us: Love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself. May this Advent draw you deeper into the mystery of God’s love for us.
Grace and peace,
Fr. Gary Tyman