The Story of the Nativity

Have you ever wondered how we got our Nativity scene?  The Gospels give us the story of Christ’s birth, of course, but how did we get the tradition of placing a creche on our fireplace mantle, or on the coffee table, or in the front of our churches?  When did churches start dramatizing Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, or when did choirs begin to sing about the angels’ praises to the shepherds in the field while they took care of their flocks?  Well, the answer is St. Francis!
The story goes that St. Francis, the 13th-century Italian friar who was known for his love of animals and for his commitment to simple living is the person we have to thank for this simple yet profound display.  He is the reason that we see the manger scene displayed in so many places we go during the Advent and Christmas season.
 
The story starts with a woodcarver who was embittered at God by his daughter’s blindness.  This woodcarver declared that he would have nothing to do with a God “who condemns innocent children to darkness.”  He stopped going to church and he refused to make anything that would bring glory to God.  But out of his love for his daughter, one day he consented to carve a doll for her as a Christmas present (even though he said that he no longer had any reason to celebrate).
 
However, this woodcarver’s wife continued to believe in God and in the beautiful gospel message.  One day when she learned that St. Francis was to come to their town, she decided to go and hear him preach.  As she listened, she wondered at the friar’s extraordinary peace and gentleness, yet no amount of pleading could convince her husband to go with her.  However, that all changed on Christmas Eve.  As she got ready to go to the service led by St. Francis, she stole away her husband’s carved doll and took it to St. Francis, who had set upon the idea of creating a nativity but needed a baby Jesus for the scene.
 
The woodcarver soon discovered the theft, and realizing that his wife had taken the doll, headed for the church where the friar was preaching.  When he arrived he found his wife, but suddenly he stood transfixed – for around the doll that he had carved, were animals that had gathered there, and the friar was singing the ageless story of the birth of our Savior.  As he stood there transfixed by the scene, the woodcarver’s bitterness began to melt away.  Francis approached him and gripping his shoulder said, “You wondered if God could cure blindness?  Well, we are watching him do it, are we not?”
 
This Advent season and Christmas, many of us have a reason to not celebrate His birth, but instead, to throw our pain in God’s face and ask why we should be glad that His Son came to earth.  But what we need to see is that Jesus understands our pain – He endured the greatest suffering any of us could ever imagine.  He knows us more intimately than we even know ourselves.
 
During this beautiful season I would like to invite you to “walk into the stable” as it were, to hear the music from the angels’ as they sing “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, to men on whom His favor rests.”  We need to stand beside the shepherds realizing again that “unto us a Savior has been born, He is Christ the Lord.”  There is something going on here and I don’t want you to miss it.  He knows you; He understands like no one else what you are going through and most importantly, He loves you.  He invites you to let your pain melt away in the presence of His love.
 
“For God loved the world so much that He gave His One and only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.”

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