Francis releases letter on the nativity scene, a tradition which he would like to see revived where it might have fallen into disuse. The crèche “helps us to imagine the scene. It touches our hearts and makes us enter into salvation history as contemporaries of an event that is living and real in a broad gamut of historical and cultural contexts.” Plus, “With the simplicity of that sign, Saint Francis carried 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.”
Greccio (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis has issued an Apostolic Letter on the meaning and importance of the nativity scene. He signed the document during his visit Sunday to the town of Greccio (Italy) where Saint Francis imagined and created the first nativity scene in 1223.
The representation of the moment in which "God became a child" is also an invitation to Christians to become disciples and evangelisers, to become like the shepherds who followed the angel's invitation and brought to others the Good News of the event that changed the history of the world.
Entitled Admirabile signum (admirable sign), the Letter praises the crèche tradition and expresses “hope that this custom will never be lost and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived.”
Pope Francis signed the document Sunday afternoon in Greccio, a small town in the Lazio region with just over 1,500 inhabitants, nestled among the mountains where this afternoon, the pontiff urged us to "rediscover simplicity", of which the manger is an example.
The papal Letter defines the crèche as a “living Gospel” since it depicts Jesus’s birth, who, according to Luke, was “laid in a manger”, a “praesepium, meaning manger” in Latin, after his birth.
“With the simplicity of that sign, Saint Francis carried 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.”
It sparked wonder first of all “because it shows God’s tender love: the Creator of the universe lowered himself to take up our littleness. The gift of life, in all its mystery, becomes all the more wondrous as we realize that the Son of Mary is the source and sustenance of all life.”
“Naturally,” writes the Pope, “the Gospels remain our source for understanding and reflecting on that event. At the same time, its portrayal in the crèche helps us to imagine the scene. It touches our hearts and makes us enter into salvation history as contemporaries of an event that is living and real in a broad gamut of historical and cultural contexts.”
The Letter looks at the “signs” of the Nativity scene, starting with the night, the mountains, the cave, and the shepherds. The latter were “the first to see the most essential thing of all: the gift of salvation. It is the humble and the poor who greet the event of the Incarnation. The shepherds respond to God who comes to meet us in the Infant Jesus by setting out to meet him with love, gratitude and awe. Thanks to Jesus, this encounter between God and his children gives birth to our religion and accounts for its unique beauty, so wonderfully evident in the nativity scene.
“It is customary to add many symbolic figures to our nativity scenes. First, there are the beggars and the others who know only the wealth of the heart. [. . .] the poor are a privileged part of this mystery; often they are the first to recognize God’s presence in our midst.
“The presence of the poor and the lowly in the nativity scene remind us that God became man for the sake of those who feel most in need of his love and who ask him to draw near to them. Jesus, ‘gentle and humble in heart’ (Mt 11:29), was born in poverty and led a simple life in order to teach us to recognize what is essential and to act accordingly. The nativity scene clearly teaches that we cannot let ourselves be fooled by wealth and fleeting promises of happiness. We see Herod’s palace in the background, closed and deaf to the tidings of joy.”
Naturally, “Mary is a mother who contemplates her child and shows him to every visitor. The figure of Mary makes us reflect on the great mystery that surrounded this young woman when God knocked on the door of her immaculate heart. Mary responded in complete obedience to the message of the angel who asked her to become the Mother of God. Her words, ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38), show all of us how to abandon ourselves in faith to God’s will.”
“At Mary’s side, shown protecting the Child and his Mother, stands Saint Joseph. He is usually depicted with staff in hand, or holding up a lamp. Saint Joseph plays an important role in the life of Jesus and Mary. He is the guardian who tirelessly protects his family.”
Jesus is the heart of the crèche. “God appears as a child, for us to take into our arms. Beneath weakness and frailty, he conceals his power that creates and transforms all things. It seems impossible, yet it is true: in Jesus, God was a child, and in this way he wished to reveal the greatness of his love: by smiling and opening his arms to all.
“God’s ways are astonishing, for it seems impossible that he should forsake his glory to become a man like us. To our astonishment, we see God acting exactly as we do: he sleeps, takes milk from his mother, cries and plays like every other child! As always, God baffles us. He is unpredictable, constantly doing what we least expect. The nativity scene shows God as he came into our world, but it also makes us reflect on how our life is part of God’s own life. It invites us to become his disciples if we want to attain ultimate meaning in life.”
“These costly gifts have an allegorical meaning: gold honours Jesus’ kingship, incense his divinity, myrrh his sacred humanity that was to experience death and burial.
“As we contemplate this aspect of the nativity scene, we are called to reflect on the responsibility of every Christian to spread the Gospel. Each of us is called to bear glad tidings to all, testifying by our practical works of mercy to the joy of knowing Jesus and his love. The Magi teach us that people can come to Christ by a very long route.
“Standing before the Christmas crèche, we are reminded of the time when we were children, eagerly waiting to set it up. These memories make us all the more conscious of the precious gift received from those who passed on the faith to us. At the same time, they remind us of our duty to share this same experience with our children and our grandchildren. It does not matter how the nativity scene is arranged: it can always be the same or it can change from year to year. What matters is that it speaks to our lives. Wherever it is, and whatever form it takes, the Christmas crèche speaks to us of the love of God, the God who became a child in order to make us know how close he is to every man, woman and child, regardless of their condition.” (FP)