Nativity scene teaches simplicity and joy, Pope says at Audience

At his General Audience, Pope Francis reflects on the first Nativity scene, created 800 years ago by St Francis in the Italian town of Greccio.

By Christopher Wells

In his final General Audience before Christmas, Pope Francis returned to the image of the creche, and specifically, the first Nativity scene inaugurated 800 years ago by St Francis of Assisi.

What was the saint’s intention in organizing a living Nativity in the small Umbrian town of Greccio? the Pope asked. St Francis, he explained, wasn’t trying “to create a beautiful work of art, but, through the Nativity scene, to provoke amazement at the extreme humility of the Lord, at the hardships He suffered, for love of us, in the poor grotto of Bethlehem.”

The Pope focused on the word “amazement,” saying that in the face of the mystery of the incarnation of the Word, of the birth of Jesus, we need this religious attitude of amazement.

Simplicity and joy

Pope Francis went on to identify two chief characteristics of the Nativity scene: soberness and joy.

The first characteristic contrasts with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season the consumerism that too often marks Christmas. Instead, “the Nativity scene was created to bring us back to what truly matters: to God Who comes to dwell among us.”

The Pope went on to consider the characteristic of the true joy inspired by the Nativity scene.

The joy of Christmas, he said, does not come from sumptuous presents or lavish celebrations, but instead is “the joy that overflows from the heart that has tangibly experienced “the closeness of Jesus, the tenderness of God, Who does not leave us alone, but stands with those who are alone.”

The source of hope and joy

Pope Francis compared the Nativity scene to a well from which we can draw the nearness of God, “the source of hope and joy.”

The Nativity scene, he said, “is like a living Gospel, a domestic Gospel.” And like the well in the Bible, the Nativity scene “is a place of encounter where, we bring to Jeus the expectations and worries of life, just as the shepherds of Bethlehem and the people of Greccio did.”

And if, the Pope said, when we stand before the Nativity scene, “we entrust to Jesus all we hold dear, we too will experience ‘great joy’.”

“Let us go before the Nativity scene,” Pope Francis said in conclusion, encouraging everyone to look upon the scene in the manger and to allow themselves to feel something within.