By ARCHBISHOP GREGORY J. HARTMAYER, OFM Conv. | Published December 22, 2022 | En Español
The image of the crèche at Christmas arouses awe and contemplation. Awe in the mystery of God becoming man to save us from our sins in the poverty of a stable. Contemplation as we kneel in prayer before Emmanuel, God is with us.
In the crèche we see Jesus, the hope of all ages, lying in a manger with arms outstretched to embrace us with his love. We see Mary bowed in adoration before God made man. And there is Joseph keeping guard like a sentinel watching over his family. There are animals present and a star illuminating the darkness and revealing Jesus as the light of the world. The angels sing his praises and the shepherds are the first to see the King of Kings.
The first crèche was set up by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 in Greccio, Italy. St. Francis wanted people to remember that Jesus was born in a humble stable in Bethlehem. By candlelight, the first Christmas story was acted out to encourage people to remember the greatest gift of all, the Son of God becoming man.
In his Apostolic Letter, “Admirabile Signum” (On the Meaning and Importance of the Nativity Scene), Pope Francis wrote: “As we contemplate the Christmas story, we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman. We come to realize that so great is his love for us that he became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with him.”
When Jesus and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, they were a family in need. Someone showed them kindness on that first Christmas night so that Jesus would be born among us. He is the meaning of Christmas.
As we kneel before him, may we place our joys, sorrows, hopes and fears before him. As we gaze at the Holy Family, may we recognize them in the poor and suffering in our own midst. May we open our hearts to receive the limitless love that He continues to bring.
On behalf of Bishop Ned Shlesinger, Bishop Joel Konzen and Bishop-Elect John Tran, I wish you and your loved ones a blessed Christmas. May we all have the Christ child at the center of our lives so that we bring his light to all we meet.