Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Many of the images we see around Christmas, such as Santa and his Reindeer, are based on old advertising gimmicks designed to lure shoppers into big department stores. They have turned into entertaining stories for families to watch over the holidays, but there is one scene that we must not forget to contemplate and that is the Nativity.
Crèches come in all different shapes and sizes. People have their own traditions about whether to place the Infant Jesus in his crib on or before Christmas day, and some even move their statues of the Three Kings closer and closer to the Holy Family until the Epiphany.
It is interesting to note that St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first living Nativity, according to St. Bonaventure, the Franciscan monk who wrote about his life and miracles. As the story goes, in 1223, St. Francis was in the town of Greccio. He wanted to encourage people’s devotion, so with permission from the Pope, he put together a live scene of a manger filled with hay, an ox and an ass. He gathered his Franciscan brothers and other folk and “the wood echoed with their voices, and that august night was made radiant and solemn with many bright lights, and with tuneful and sonorous praises.”
Solemn Masses were celebrated over the manger and St. Francis preached about the humble birth of the King in poverty. The Child of Bethlehem, our Savior, came to us defenseless and unostentatious, but through him we are able to seek salvation.
Stories about conversion or transformation are prominent in the Gospel narratives about Christmas. Here we learn from those who chose to be true servants — Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men — they all inspire a response on our part. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke reflect the true theme of this Christmas season and that theme is God’s gift to humanity and humanity’s response. Every response to God’s initiative is a “yes”.
From Mary’s yes to the message of Gabriel, and Joseph’s yes to the angel’s bidding to take Mary as his wife, to the shepherd’s response to the angel’s praise of God’s gift, and the wise men’s response to following the star, we see humanity’s yes to all God asked. God is with us — He is Emmanuel and God invites us all to that same “yes” this Christmas and throughout the New Year.
A blessed Christmas to all,
Most Rev. Robert E. Guglielmone
Bishop of Charleston