Fr Vincent Busch
For the past ten years I have been working in a livelihood project with a group of Subanen artisans. Every year we design Christmas cards that simultaneously celebrate the story of God’s Creation and the story of God’s Incarnation. This year the Subanen artisans are carefully crafting images of Jesus in the manger within five ever-expanding settings from the tiny stable in Bethlehem to the vast heart of our spiraling Galaxy. While they craft cards, I have the task of crafting a reflection – with a lot of help from St Francis – about the meaning of their cards.
St Francis is credited with instituting the Christmas custom of setting up manger scenes in our homes and churches. The story goes that shortly before Christmas 1223 Francis encouraged the people of Greccio to reconstruct a manger scene in a cave near their town. He explained to the people: ‘If you want to celebrate the Feast of the Lord at Greccio, hurry and diligently prepare what I tell you. For I wish to recall to memory the little child who was born in Bethlehem. I want to set before our bodily eyes the hardship of his infant needs’. The manger scene touched the hearts of the people of Greccio and it continues to touch our hearts today.
Francis’ words make it clear that he never intended the manger scene to be a cute and cozy recollection of Christmas. Instead, he wanted to stress the ‘hardships’ facing Jesus.