Many of you know that one of my hobbies is collecting nativity sets. And I keep them out all year round, some in my office and some on display at home. Each one has a special meaning – from the oldest one, which belonged to my grandmother (that’s it in the featured picture), to my most recent addition from my trip to Peru which includes a llama among the animals. But do you know the history of the nativity scene?
It seems that Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first nativity scene in 1223 in Italy. This was a living nativity featuring people playing the parts of the various characters and live animals. It was staged in a cave near Greccio, Italy and even received the notice of the Pope. Francis had recently been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and when he came back he was inspired to do something in order to combat the rampant materialism that had overtaken the celebration of Christ’s birth. He wanted to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas, placing Christ at the center of the celebration instead of allowing it to be about material gifts.
What about us today? It seems we haven’t come too far from what was happening in 1223. The struggle to keep the focus on Christ isn’t only a modern-day problem, it has existed for centuries. So our challenge is to make a concerted effort to do things that will place Christ at the center of our Christmas. Bring out the nativity set. In fact, leave it out. Tell your children and grandchildren the story of Jesus’ birth from the Bible. Participate in worship services that tell the true meaning of Christmas. Share the love of Christ with others through acts of service and generosity. Go caroling. Visit a shut-in. Limit your gift-giving so that the focus is shifted back to Christ, to spending time with family instead of spending money on them. And slow down – linger near the manger and see God wrapped in squishy, baby flesh. Be amazed once again at what His coming means – “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all men” because “God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life!” Merry Christmas – I’ll see you at the manger!