CULLMAN – In order to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas, Christians all over the world display some sort of nativity scene in their homes, yards and even places of business. The word, nativity, refers to the accounts of the birth of Jesus based on the two accounts in the gospels of Luke and Matthew in the Bible.
According to the Bible, Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph, traveled from their home in Nazareth to the little town of Bethlehem to be counted in the census. Mary, heavy with child, rode upon a donkey, as her husband tried to find a place to stay for the night. There was no room for them anywhere. Eventually they were allowed to stay in a common stable along with the farm animals, which is where Jesus was then born. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger, which is another word for the feeding trough for livestock. According to Christians, Jesus’ birth fulfilled many Old Testament prophecies. Wise men from far off lands and local shepherds found their way to the baby Jesus by following a miraculous star that hung beautifully over the area.
St. Francis of Assisi created the first-ever nativity scene recorded in history in 1223. Like many folks today, St. Francis became concerned that the meaning of Christmas was becoming lost as most people were more focused with the ritual of gift giving. Sound familiar?
Just like most pastors and religious people these days, St. Francis was determined to remind people what Christmas is really about. Before long, he set about creating the world’s first known nativity scene to help tell his people of The Nativity Story. He gathered together local people and animals and then placed them in a cave near Greccio, Italy, properly portraying the biblical characters, Mary and Joseph. As for the infant Jesus, he used a figure made of wax.
The nativity portrayal quickly caught on, and both live and sculpted nativity scenes spread all over Europe. Today, nearly 800 years later, St. Francis’s beautiful rendition of the birth of Jesus continues. On Christmas Eve, churches reenact the blessed event with young children playing the parts of the Holy Family, the three Wise Men, humble Shepherds, white sparkly angels and wooly animals.
This Christmas, over all the hustle and bustle, try to remember the message of St. Francis of Assisi. Take a moment to look at one of the nearby nativity sets and think of Jesus and His birth, if you’re a Christian, and remember the sacred reason for the season.