The Nativity of the Lord. Christmas
Readings of Mass During the Night
Is 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14
Last Christmas I told you about the first Christmas creche with live animals created by St. Francis of Assisi in the town of Greccio in 1223. Then I told you about the first non-animate scene created by Italian scultor Arnolpho de Cambio in 1291. This year, on December 1, the First Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis issued a major Apostolic Letter on the importance of the Christmas creche, the nativity scene, in our churches and in our homes. (To read the letter and a story about it, just Google Pope Francis Christmas creche. I have also put a link to it in this Sunday’s bulletin.) This scene by di Cambio is in Rome in the great basilica of Saint Mary Major. I told you last year that in the same basilica is a shrine beneath the high altar. In this shrine is the manger of Christ, the actual wooden manger that held the body of the infant Jesus. The word “mangiare,” from the Italian, means “to eat”: “mangiare.” Manger means a feeding trough – for animals. We often lose sight of that. Jesus was placed in a feeding trough for animals, in God’s design, to foreshadow that he would become food for us: that is, the Panis Angelicus, the bread of angels, come to men and women, human animals, made in God’s image and likeness.
Mary and Joseph set out in darkness, the way we do. Led by God’s light, they were fed by God’s providence as they proceeded on their way to Bethlehem. We, too, must take nourishment lest our journey be too much for us. Christ is born in us when we take Holy Communion. The word becomes flesh in our lives.
Mary and Joseph were not alone. We are not alone. Emmanuel, God-is-with-us. Christ feeds us with his body to strengthen us amid life’s difficulties and sorrows. Joseph and Mary’s path forward was difficult. So is ours. So, Mangiare! Take and eat! Food for the journey. Fed by the Lord, we become bread for others.
Pope Francis stresses in his letter how important it is that we maintain this tradition, treasure it and hand it down to our children; that we see ourselves in the characters, the figures, the ordinary people like us. He observes that sometimes people add to the scene contemporary figures in our daily lives; they are examples of what he calls “ordinary holiness.” He says: “beginning in childhood, and at every stage of our lives, it [the nativity scene] 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.” Parents, bring your children to the stable. See the manger. See Him. Born for us today: Food for the world. Receive Him. Mangiare. Mary gave him flesh and so do we. Come, let us adore him and bear him from the manger to the world.