Pope Francis said that for his birthday on December 17, he was shown a unique Nativity scene, dubbed “Let Mum Rest.” In the depiction, which has been making the rounds this year on social media, Mary is sleeping and Joseph is holding a tired Baby with his arms outstretched in a typical newborn pose.
The Pope said the image shows “the tenderness of a family, of a marriage.”
“How many of you have to share the night between husband and wife for the baby boy or girl who cries, cries, and cries,” he reflected. This is, precisely, the message of the Nativity scene, the Pope explained.
“And we can also invite the Holy Family to our home, where there are joys and concerns, where every day we wake up, eat, and sleep close to our loved ones. The manger is a domestic Gospel”.
Pope Francis this year has been emphasizing the importance of holding on to the tradition of creating Nativity scenes. He traveled to Greccio, where St. Francis created the first “living Nativity,” and released an apostolic letter that went into the symbolism and purpose of the crib. As well, he went to visit a display set up at the Vatican of 100 Nativity scenes from around the world.
Crib at home
At the General Audience, he spoke of setting up a Nativity scene as a “simple but effective” way to prepare our hearts for the Birth of Jesus.
In fact, the crib “is like a living Gospel” he said in his Apostolic Letter Admirabile signum. It brings the Gospel to the places where one lives: to homes, schools, workplaces and meeting places, hospitals and nursing homes, prisons and squares.
And there, where we live, it reminds us of something essential: that God did not remain invisible in heaven, but came to Earth, He became man, a child.
To make a Nativity display is to celebrate God’s closeness. God has always been close to His people, but when He was incarnated and born, He was very close, very close.
To make the crèche is to celebrate God’s closeness, it is to rediscover that God is real, concrete, living and breathing. God is not a distant lord or a detached judge, but rather He is humble Love, Who has come down to us. The Child in the manger transmits His tenderness to us.
Some statues depict the Child with open arms, to tell us that God came to embrace our humanity.
So it is good to be in front of the crib and there to confide our lives to the Lord, to talk to Him about the people and situations we care about, to take stock of the year that is coming to an end with Him, to share our expectations and concerns.
The pope invited us to imagine the thoughts and feelings of Mary and Joseph “while the Child was born in poverty: joy, but also dismay.”
And in the midst of what Francis called “today’s sometimes hectic rhythms,” the manger is “an invitation to contemplation.”
It reminds us of the importance of stopping. Because only when we know how to gather together can we accept what counts in life. Only if we leave the noise of the world outside our homes do we open ourselves up to listening to God, Who speaks in silence.
Noting the various characters that fill some Nativity scenes, the pope said that “the crèche reminds us that Jesus comes into our real life. And, this is important.”
Always set up a Nativity scene, the pope urged: because it is the memory that God came to us, He was born of us, He accompanies us in life, He is man like us, He made Himself man like us.
In everyday life we are no longer alone, He lives with us.
This does not magically change things, but if we accept Him, everything can change.
I hope then that making the Nativity display will be an opportunity to invite Jesus into our life. When we make the crèche at home, it is like opening the door and saying: “Jesus, come in!” It is making this closeness tangible, this invitation to Jesus to come into our lives.
Because if He dwells in our lives, life is reborn. And if life is reborn, it really is Christmas.