The Christmas story has been told in many ways; in books, on stage, in films, on canvas and in song. The birth of one innocent child long ago has become a source of inspiration and well-being. In the scene Mary holds her child delicately in her arms, her little baby, so fragile, delicate and vulnerable. We are invited to silently enter the contemplation of this great and beautiful mystery that is the incarnation; God came to be with us in human flesh, to save us and give us new life. Pope Francis said, “The Lord is asking you to be a gift wherever you are, and just as you are with everyone around you. He is asking you not to simply go through life, but to give life, not to complain about life, but to share in the tears of all who suffer. Courage! The Lord expects great things from you.” You and I are active participants in life. It is not just something that happens.
Like Mary and Joseph and our ancestors before us, we must also say yes and live faithful, caring lives so that God‘s true nature will not only open our minds, but also our hearts to His presence in our lives.
On this night when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior, what can we say? What can we do? So many questions arise from our heart – Who am I? From where did I come? Why was I born? Who do I love? Why do I suffer? Why will I die? It was to answer these questions that God became man. God does not abandon us, it is we who abandon Him. In the Catechism it states about Christmas, “No one, whether shepherd or wise man, can approach God here below except by kneeling before the manger at Bethlehem and adoring Him, hidden in the weakness of a newborn child.”
St. Francis of Assisi was instrumental in the creation of the crib. He asked a local man to help him realize his desire “to bring to life the memory of that babe born in Bethlehem; to see as much as possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of His infant needs; how He lay in a manger, and how, with ox and donkey standing by, He was laid upon a bed of hay.” This is how the first crib came about. On Christmas night when Francis arrived, he found a manger full of hay, an ox and a donkey. All those present experienced a new and indescribable joy in the presence of the Christmas scene on the 25 December 1223 and “everyone went home with joy.” Pope Francis spoke, “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.”
I remember one Christmas when I was about 7 years old, I got my first 2-wheeler bike. I was bored one day and annoying my mother. When she told me to go out for a ride on my new bike – like all kids – I asked, “Where I should go?” By now I had gone up the road and down the road and everyone had seen my new bike. I guess my mother in desperation said, “Go down to the Church and say thank you to baby Jesus for having Santa give you a new bike for Christmas. So off I went on my new bike to the local Church. The life size crib scene was off the foyer of the darkened Church. The only light came from a small bulb shining on baby Jesus. There was the smell of the straw and hay which added to the scene. There was no one there – only me, baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and the animals. There was a kneeler across the front of the crib, but I was not tall enough to kneel and see, so I just sat on the kneeler and stared at the scene. I don’t know what I said. I don’t even know if I prayed. I did thank baby Jesus for sending Santa and for my new bike. My clearest memory of this visit was it was so peaceful and mysterious. I remember in my limited understanding of faith, this baby is Jesus and He was the person I prayed to every day. He made the world and made me. Yet here He was as a baby, not in a house, but in a stable lying in straw. In the quietness of the scene, I felt a peace and I treasure this scene as one of my most memorable childhood experiences.
Pope Francis summarized it best, “Dear brothers and sisters, the Christmas crèche is part of the precious yet demanding process of passing 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, His children, brothers and sisters all, thanks to that Child who is the Son of God and the Son of the Virgin Mary. And to realize that in that knowledge we find true happiness. Like St. Francis, may we open our hearts to this simple grace, so that from our wonderment a humble prayer may arise: a prayer of thanksgiving to God, who wished to share with us his all, and thus never to leave us alone.”
I invite you to take a moment to reflect on the child Jesus laying in a manger of straw. Mary and Joseph had many questions. What are your questions? Let the Christ Child help you with your questions. He will not disappoint or abandon you. Christ’s message is that He came to bring His Peace, Hope and Joy to the world this Christmas and every Christmas.
Bishop John Noonan
December 24, 2019