The First Nativity Scene, inspired by St. Francis of Assisi
By Karen Riobo
Christmas time brings excitement as we display our Nativity Scenes for all to see. Christian families worldwide gather around the scene to sing and pray to the Holy Family and all the characters involved in that special moment in human history. This manger takes different forms in every household, but the essence and symbolism are the same. Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, a donkey, an ox, and the shepherd represent the Jews, the Magi representing the world. An angel and the star of Bethlehem that guided the way to the Savior.
For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. ~ Luke 2:11
This tradition that we enjoy today was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi over eight hundred years ago. He created this depiction to help Christians understand the true meaning of Christmas. Francis uniquely enjoyed the season, as shared by Thomas Celano, a Friar, in Second Life 151; Speculum Perfection 124, and it reads:
“If I knew the emperor — he often said — I would beg him to order that wheat is thrown to feed all birds, especially sparrows, and to command all those who have animals in barns to feed them more generously, in memory of the birth of Christ on a manger. I also wish on this solemn day all the rich welcomed the poor at their table!”
It is no surprise that Francis would want to celebrate it radically and to benefit animals.
St. Francis wanted to remind the world that the season was about more than just giving or receiving gifts. Approved by the Holy See, the first manger was set in Greccio, Italy, in a highland surrounded by woods with living people and animals. “I hope at least once I can see through my eyes how the Divine Child slept in the manger, how the Lord surrendered himself to contempt and extreme poverty out of love for us!” Numerous groups of people were invited to watch the display and reflect on the miracle of the Nativity of Jesus Christ. Witnesses shared that Francis will sing joyfully, inviting others to praise and give thanks for the miracle of our Savior's gift.
The story of the first manger reminds us that we should follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This deep love and devotion for the most memorable birth in history led this saint to create a tradition shared by many Christian denominations today. By appreciating its beauty, we are reminded that the promised Messiah and King of the World was born in a humble manger in Bethlehem. He did not want to be boastful about His power but tried to make it known that He was the servant of all. We rejoice in the birth of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. He is the Joy of the World!
Inspired by St. Francis, How would you invite the poor to your table this Christmas?
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