Image: The Christmas celebration in the forest of Greccio | Giotto di Bondone | Fresco in the Upper Church of Saint Francis, Assisi | photo by The Yorck Project
Saint of the Day for December 24
The Story of Christmas at Greccio
What better way to prepare for the arrival of the Christ Child than to take a brief journey to Greccio, the spot in central Italy where Saint Francis of Assisi created the first Christmas crib in the year 1223.
Francis, recalling a visit he had made years before to Bethlehem, resolved to create the manger he had seen there. The ideal spot was a cave in nearby Greccio. He would find a baby—we’re not sure if it was a live infant or the carved image of a baby—hay upon which to lay him, an ox and an ass to stand beside the manger. Word went out to the people of the town. At the appointed time, they arrived carrying torches and candles.
One of the friars began celebrating Mass. Francis himself gave the sermon. His biographer, Thomas of Celano, recalls that Francis “stood before the manger…overcome with love and filled with a wonderful happiness…”
For Francis, the simple celebration was meant to recall the hardships Jesus suffered even as an infant, a savior who chose to become poor for our sake, a truly human Jesus.
Tonight, as we pray around the Christmas cribs in our homes, we welcome into our hearts that same Savior.
God’s choice to give human beings free will was from the beginning a decision to be helpless in human hands. With the birth of Jesus, God made the divine helplessness very clear to us, for a human infant is totally dependent on the loving response of other people. Our natural response to a baby is to open our arms as Francis did–to the infant of Bethlehem, and to the God who made us all.