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Kia tau te rangimarie ki a koutou,
When my sisters and I were young and growing up in Waipukurau, we, like most families decorated a Christmas tree. We used to go out with Dad and find a pine branch somewhere and that became our Christmas tree. We also had a beautiful Nativity set prepared in the fireplace every year. A friend of Dad’s painted a scene of Bethlehem on a heavy kind of cardboard. That became the background as it was fitted into the back of the fireplace every year to help set the scene. Many of us will have such memories of preparing Nativity scenes to help us to reflect on the wonder and joy of Christmas.
Pope Francis has just a few days ago written a letter on the meaning and the importance of the Nativity scene. The letter was given from Greccio, the place in Italy where Francis of Assisi in 1224, replicated the manger scene and helped people to prayerfully contemplate the mystery of “God among us.”. Today, in Greccio, one can still see the stone on which the hay was placed, and where the image of the baby was laid. There were no figures of Joseph and Mary, just the baby and two animals.
In his letter Pope Francs says this “The enchanting image of the Christmas crèche, so dear to the Christian people, never ceases to arouse amazement and wonder. The depiction of Jesus’ birth is itself a simple and joyful proclamation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. The nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture. As we contemplate the Christmas story, we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey, drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter every man and woman. We come to realize that so great is his love for us that he became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with him.”
The Pope also encourages families to pick up this tradition once again of preparing a Nativity scene “in our homes, workplaces, schools’ hospitals, prisons and town squares.”
We will see many cribs over the next couple of weeks. Will they be an opportunity for prayer and reflection for us, will we stop in awe and give thanks that “a child is born to us, a son is given to us” (Isaiah 9:5-6)?
Please think of Pope Francis words to us this Christmas: “Dear brothers and sisters, the Christmas crèche is part of the precious yet demanding process of passing on the faith. Beginning in childhood, and at every stage of our lives, it teaches us to contemplate Jesus, to experience God’s love for us, to feel and believe that God is with us and that we are with him, his children, brothers and sisters all, thanks to that Child who is the Son of God and the Son of the Virgin Mary. And to realize that in that knowledge we find true happiness. Like Saint Francis, may we open our hearts to this simple grace, so that from our wonderment a humble prayer may arise: a prayer of thanksgiving to God, who wished to share with us his all, and thus never to leave us alone.”
With every blessing for Christmas