Historians credit Francis of Assisi with gifting the world with the first nativity scene. It happened in 1223 in the Italian village of Greccio where Francis wanted to help people better understand and engage the mystery of the Word become flesh. Francis remembered a visit he made to Bethlehem years earlier that inspired the idea of finding a cave near Greccio and setting up a feeding trough filled with hay. He brought an ox and donkey to the cave and then invited villagers to come and contemplate as he preached “the Babe of Bethlehem”. On Christmas night people came carrying torches and candles and listened as Francis spoke of God suffering for us in the truly human Jesus. Francis is reported to have been so overwhelmed by emotion as he preached that he could not say “Jesus”.
During the Advent period our family has been contemplating the reality that God became flesh in the Incarnate Christ. I am still getting my head around that fact that Jesus existed eternally before His incarnation. I doubt I can use the correct terminology but it means that Jesus was fully God in form and status. But the incarnation is not simply a temporary appearance. We are told that Jesus will retain his resurrected bodily form for all eternity. So God has linked Himself with mankind. It is this reality that must have driven Francis of Assisi to be so overwhelmed by the nativity scene.
May we all be captivated by the fact that God has expressed His deep love for us through the incarnation of Jesus.