We see it set up in homes, churches, friaries and places of work. Even if we lament that certain values are dwindling still we crave to set it up! Hence, why do we, as Catholic Christians, set up the Christmas crèche?
Such a valid, sincere and holy question can be answered thanks to the apostolic letter by Pope Francis, entitled Admirabile signum. It talks about the meaning and importance of the nativity scene. The fact that this apostolic letter was given in Greccio, at the Shrine of the Nativity, wherein Saint Francis of Assisi created the first crib scene in 1223 to commemorate the birth of Jesus, says much on its authoritative answers it humbly gives to any mind that is curious regarding the Christmas crèche
Reason one, we set up the Christmas crèche because of its enchanting image. The Christmas crèche’s enchanting image is one that never ceases to arouse amazement and wonder. This is so since the depiction of Jesus’ birth is itself a simple and joyful proclamation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God (no.1). Reason two, we set up the Christmas crèche because it is a living Gospel. In fact, the nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture (no.1). This living Gospel set us out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman (no.1). Jesus, God incarnate, loves us so much that He became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with Him (no.1).
Reason three, we set up the Christmas crèche because it is a family tradition. The nativity scene brings about the custom of setting it up in the workplace, in schools, hospitals, prisons and town squares (no.1). Whilst appreciating both the imagination and creativity which accompany these tiny masterpieces the Pope hopes that this custom will never be lost and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived (no.1). Reason four, we set up the Christmas crèche because of the crèche’s Gospel origin. Coming into this 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) (no.2). Thus, the nativity scene evokes a number of the mysteries of Jesus’ life and brings them close to our own daily lives (no. 2).
Reason five, we set up the Christmas crèche because it reminds us of Saint Francis’ crèche in Greccio. While visiting Greccio, in 1223, Saint Francis was captivated by the caves he beheld in this central Italian town. After that the friars and local people were assembled, bringing flowers and torches, on December 25, when Francis arrived, he found a manger full of hay, an ox and a donkey (no.2). A priest celebrated the Eucharistic sacrifice over the manger, thus showing the bond between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist (no.2). Reason six, we set up the Christmas crèche because it is the start of the tradition wherein, with everyone gathered in joy around the cave, with no distance between the original event and those sharing in its mystery (no. 2). Hence, through a simple fraternity, Saint Francis started a great work of evangelization that even nowadays it manages to offer a simple yet authentic means of portraying the beauty of our faith (no.3).
Reason seven, we set up the Christmas crèche because it is a sign of God’s tender love. As from the time of its Franciscan nucleus, the nativity scene has invited us to ‘feel’ and ‘touch’ the poverty that God’s Son took upon Himself in the Incarnation (no.3). The Holy Father continued that it asks us to meet Him and serve Him by showing mercy to those of our brothers and sisters in greatest need (cf. Mt 25:31-46) (no.3). Reason eight, we set up the Christmas crèche because of the landscape. The crèche landscape usually includes ancient houses or buildings (no.4). Considering them closely, these ruins are the visible sign of fallen humanity, of everything that inevitably falls into ruin, decays and disappoints (no.4). This scenic ambience informs us that Jesus has come to heal and rebuild, to restore the world and our lives to their original splendour (no.4).
Reason nine, we set up the Christmas crèche because of the shepherds. The shepherds were unique since, unlike so many other people, busy about many things, the shepherds become 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 (no.5), they respond to God who comes to meet us in the Infant Jesus by setting out to meet Him with love, gratitude and awe (no.5). Reason ten, we set up the Christmas crèche because of the poor and lowly. The presence of both the poor and the lowly is a sign 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 (no.6). From His manger, Jesus proclaims, in a meek yet powerful way, the need for sharing with the poor as the path to a more human and fraternal world in which no one is excluded or marginalized (no.6).
Reason eleven, we set up the Christmas crèche because of every day holiness. In the crèche there are figures that seem to have no seemingly relationship with the Gospel accounts. As Pope Francis says: From the shepherd to the blacksmith, from the baker to the musicians, from the women carrying jugs of water to the children at play: all this speaks of everyday holiness, the joy of doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way (no.6) Reason twelve, we set up the Christmas crèche because of Mary and Joseph. Mary is a mother who contemplates her child and shows Him to every visitor… In her, we see the Mother of God who does not keep her Son only to herself, but invites everyone to obey His word and to put it into practice (cf. Jn 2:5) (no.7). On the other hand, Saint Joseph is by her side, protecting the Child and His Mother (no.7). Joseph is the guardian and the just man, he entrusted himself always to God’s will, and put it into practice (no.7).
Reason thirteen, we set up the Christmas crèche because of the Infant Jesus. The statue of the Infant Jesus in the manger gives the nativity scene its very life! 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 (no.8). The crèche not only gives us the opportunity to see and touch this special and singular event that transformed world history but it also makes us reflect on how our life is part of God’s own life (no.8). Reason fourteen, we set up the Christmas crèche because of the Three Kings. As the Feast of Epiphany gets nearer the Christmas crèche becomes completed by the figures of the Three Kings. Their very presence recalls our personal responsibility as Christians to spread the Gospel everywhere. The Magi teach us that people can come to Christ by a very long route (no.9). As soon as they return home they share with others this wonderful encounter with the Messiah, thus initiating the spread of the Gospel among the nations (no.9).
Reason fifteen, we set up the Christmas crèche to transmit our Christian faith. The memories we all cherish of standing before the Christmas crèche, when we were children, are to remind us of our duty to share this same experience with our children and our grandchildren (no.10). What really matters is not the arrangment of the nativity scene but what matters is that it speaks to our lives (no.10). The Christmas crèche is important in the inestimable yet challenging process of handing on the faith. Beginning in childhood, and at every stage of our lives, it teaches us to contemplate Jesus, to experience God’s love for us, to feel and believe that God is with us and that we are with Him (no.10).
It is wise to keep setting up the Christmas crèche year after year because His closeness brings light where there is darkness and shows the way to those dwelling in the shadow of suffering (cf. Lk 1:79) (no.4).
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap