Today these sets come in all shapes and sizes, from a tiny version to place on your desk to larger than life displays, from the cheapest and sickeningly cute to the most lavish displays of realism possible.
Tomaso de Celano tells us that “the humility of the Incarnation and the charity of the Passion were foremost in [Francis’] mind, so that he rarely wanted to think of anything else” (The First Life, 30.84).
I wonder, as we look at the manger, how often do we consider the Passion of the Lord? When we look at the Christ-child, do we see simply a cute and beautiful infant ready to play with us, or do we see the totality of Christ? Do we see both his beauty and playfulness together with his love and humility?
When he created the first Nativity scene, Francis said:
I would like to portray the Christ born in Bethlehem and to see somehow with my bodily eyes the hardships he underwent because he lacked all a newborn’s needs, the way he was placed in a manger and how he lay on the hay between the ox and the ass (The First Life, 30.84).“Sighing, the Saint of God stood before the crèche, filled with sighs, contrite in piety and overcome with ineffable joy” (1.30.85). Let us do the same as we gaze upon the displays in our homes, in our churches and on the street corners.
Oh, and please keep your Christmas decorations up until the season truly ends, on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (Monday, 8 January). Don’t forget: the Nativity set in St. Peter’s Square stays up until the Feast of the Presentation (2 February).