Francis and the Crib

Posted under The Rectory Bulletin | Church History

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

On Christmas Eve 1223, the villagers of Greccio were invited to a service by Francis of Assisi. He had settled in the area with some of his followers, and had planned something for the locals. In fact, he had even written to the Pope to gain permission for what he had planned.

As the villagers climbed up the snaking paths, they came to one of the many caves which dotted the hills and discovered what Francis had planned. In the rough cavern was a donkey, and a man and women dressed up in costume. They stood around a manger, which contained a wax doll.

As they looked on, Francis chanted the Gospel passage recounting Jesus’ birth and then began to preach. He had been to Bethlehem, and told them of the events of that first Christmas. He urged them to place their faith in that baby, born a millennium before in Bethlehem.

As the villagers left, their torches bobbing as they weaved down the hill, Francis stayed at the cave through the night in prayer.

We have Francis to thank for the popularity of Christmas nativity scenes, but often his original purpose is lost. Rather than decoration, he wanted to bring the challenge of Christmas to life. When you pass a crib scene, perhaps you might pause and look at the figure in manger and ask yourself the question: what difference does it make to know that that infant is in fact divine?

O Bethlehem

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2) - Then there is an intriguing twist. The coming forth of this ruler is “from of old, from ancient days”. In other words, this will be the fulfilment of a plan long in the making. Something set in motion in “ancient day”, from time immemorial.

Unto us a Child is Born

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder (Isaiah 9:6) - From the eight century BC, Isaiah speaks forth a great prophecy of the hope to come. The kingdom of Judah is under great stress, neighbouring nations are laying siege, and in the midst of all this turmoil the great prophet speaks of a future. A future which, for those who heard him, would sound entirely counter to their expectations.

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