The crib is the central and visible attraction for young children at Christmas. Watch the little children come to the crib to say hello and welcome the baby Jesus. It is amazing to see how excited they are at welcoming baby Jesus. I am sure you parents get all sorts of questions. When I was young going to see and saying hello to baby Jesus was the highlight of Christmas Mass.
But this was not always so; the crib was not a part of the Christmas celebration until the beginning of the 13th century. In 1223 to be exact, Saint Francis of Assisi was returning from a trip to Rome. While in Rome he visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major and was impressed by the beautiful mosaics depicting the birth of Jesus. He realized these mosaics could not be imitated or reproduced in Assisi, but he had another idea. Just fifteen (15) days before Christmas, Saint Francis asked a local man to help him “to bring to life the meaning of that baby born in Bethlehem, to see as much as possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of this infant’s needs, how he lay in a manger, and how, with the ox and donkey standing by, he was laid upon a bed of hay.”
On December 25, the people gathered with flowers and torches to light up the holy night. When they arrived at the church, they found a manger full of hay with an ox and donkey on either side. We are told “all those present experienced a new and incredible joy in the presence of the Christmas scene. The priest then solemnly celebrated the Eucharist over the manger, showing the bond between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist.” To this day if you go to Assisi you can see that original crib in the Basilica church. Tonight, we are invited once again to come to the crib and welcome the baby Jesus and to receive Him in the Eucharist that is His Body and Blood.
We have endured much pain and suffering during this pandemic these past few months. Families have lost loved ones, suffered financially and many people have been left unemployed. The loss of contact between grandparents and grandchildren; between friends and relatives has left us alone and isolated. We had to adapt to these changes which have given us a new way of living our lives. I am sure living in a virtual world with all this Zooming and Skyping is helpful; but, is it helping us to live more meaningful and healthy lives? We are longing and searching for the real world. We may be forced to ask difficult questions about life and its meaning.
Pope Francis said that during pandemic times people are forced to question their lives; “Who am I? Where do I come from? Why was I born in this time in history? Why do I love? Why do I suffer?” Then he said, “It was to answer these questions that God became man. His closeness brings light where there is darkness and shows the way to those dwelling in the shadows of suffering.”
Yes, in these pandemic times, we may have been angry and frustrated, lost and forgotten with ourselves and others. In our search for peace and answers, have our hearts been filled with fear, anger and frustration? Or have we spoken to the Lord, have we even shared our fears, anger and frustration with the Lord? Have we invited the Lord into our hearts? Have we prayed and asked for the Lord’s guidance?
If our hearts are troubled, our lives are troubled. If our hearts are filled with trouble, there can be no peace in our lives. We may need to fill our hearts with the Lord’s peace, hope and love; rather than the turmoil of the world. We need to make room for God in our daily lives; make time for daily prayer even if only a minute. There is a beautiful prayer called the Examine. It takes just a few minutes at the end of your day.
When you visit the crib, at the end of Mass, let the great Mystery enfold before you: God becoming one with us, becoming like us, incarnate, in the flesh. Try this Examine prayer, close your eyes and picture yourself holding or looking at the baby Jesus. What do you want to say to Him? Ask Him to help you. As you reflect over these last months for what are you thankful? What are your concerns or worries? What regrets do you have? With what do you want Jesus to help you in your life? Just remain in the peace for a minute or two. You will not hear a voice, but you will listen to your heart speak to you.
We encounter Jesus in a stable as newborn baby lying in a manger. Like children we should allow the crib scene in its simplicity and peacefulness to arouse wonder and hope in us. Pope Francis tells us that the crib “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 more wondrous as we realize that the Son of Mary is the source and sustenance of all life. In Jesus, the Father has given us a brother who comes to seek us out whenever we are confused or lost, a loyal friend ever at our side. He gave us His Son who forgives us and frees us from our sins” (Admirabile signum #3).
Like the shepherds in the Gospel they go to see “this thing that happened, which the Lord has made know to us” (Luke 2:5). What was made know to them? Pope Francis tells us, “The shepherds became the first to see the most essential thing of all: the gift of salvation.” As you visit the crib this Christmas, may the Christ child share His gift of salvation with you and your family. May the Christ child touch your hearts this Christmas with the gift of salvation which brings Peace, Hope and Love.
St. James Cathedral, 10:00 p.m.
December 24, 2020