Admirabile Signum

"An admirable sign" - Reflections on the Meaning and Importance of the Nativity Scene

Friday, December 16, 2022

In December 2019, Pope Francis released a short letter on the meaning of the Nativity scene. He highlighted that ‘the Christmas crib 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 is and that we are with him…’ This article highlights a few of the Pope’s reflections on key elements of the Nativity scene.

‘The angels and the guiding star are a sign that we too are called to set out for the cave and to worship the Lord.’

‘The shepherds respond to God who comes to meet us in the Infant Jesus by setting out to meet him with love, gratitude and awe…. Unlike so many other people, busy about many things, the shepherds become the first to see the most essential thing of all: the gift of salvation. It is the humble and poor who greet the event of the Incarnation.’

‘Mary is a mother who contemplates her child and shows him to every visitor. The figure of Mary makes us reflect on the great mystery that surrounded this young woman when God knocked on the door of her immaculate here…. [She] shows all of us how to abandon ourselves in faith to God’s will.’

‘At Mary’s side, shown protecting the Child and His Mother, stands Saint Joseph. He is usually depicted with staff in hand, or holding up a lamp… He is the guardian who tirelessly protects his family…Joseph treasured in his heart the great mystery surrounding Jesus and Mary his spouse; as a just man, he entrusted himself always to God’s will, and put it into practice.’

‘When, at Christmas, we place the statue of the Infant Jesus in the manger, the nativity scene suddenly comes alive. God appease as a child, for us to take into our arms Beneath weakness and frailty, he conceals his power that creates and transforms all things. It seems impossible, yet it is true: in Jesus, God was a child, and in this way he wished to reveal the greatness of his love: by smiling and opening his arms to all.The birth of a child awakens joy and wonder; it sets before us the great mystery of life.Seeing the bright eyes of a young couple gazing at their new-born child, we can understand the feelings of Mary and Joseph who, as they looked at the Infant Jesus, sensed God’s presence in their lives.’

‘As the Feast of the Epiphany approaches, we place the statues of the Three Kings in the Christmas crèche…The Magi teach us that people can come to Christ by a very long route…Great joy overcomes them in the presence of the Infant King. They are not scandalised by the poor surroundings, but immediately fall to their knees to worship him…upon their return home, they would certainly have told others of this amazing encounter with the Messiah, thus initiating the spread of the Gospel among the nations.'

The Holy Father concludes his beautiful letter with these words of encouragement as we stand before our own Christmas Nativity Scene in our homes, parishes or chaplaincies:

‘It does not matter how the nativity scene is arranged; it can always be the same or it can change from year to year. What matters is that it speaks to our lives.

Wherever it is, and whatever form us takes, the Christmas crèche speaks to us of the love of God, the God who became a child in order to make us know how close he is to every man, woman and child, regardless of their condition….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 realise that in that knowledge we find true happiness.’


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