Monday, October 28, 2013

St. Francis and the Backstory of the Christmas Nativity Scene by Chris White

Francesco of Assisi

In 1219 St. Francis of Assisi sailed on a boat towards Cairo to preach the Gospel to the Muslims.  He knew he was walking in to a war zone between Crusaders from Europe and Arabs defending land they had taken in conquest centuries before, but to him it didn’t matter.  He decided beforehand that if he was able preach or if he was made a martyr, the trip would be a great success.  When he arrived he found that both sides were at a stalemate and so exhausted that they had agreed to a one-month truce.  Taking advantage of this opportunity, Francis crossed battle lines into the camp of Sultan al-Kamil of Egypt and stayed several days trying to present the truth of Christ to all who would listen.  There is no record of the Sultan being converted, but he appreciated the genuine spiritual concern Francis had and the bravery he showed in coming and rather than make him a captive, he sent out of the war zone to the safety of the Holy Land.  Francis had always wanted to go there but his attempts had always been thwarted.  Now he was being escorted there by the Sultan’s guard.  Before Francis returned home he was able to visit the site of our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem and it made a deep impression on him.  The following year he was home in Italy and he decided to do something special for the Christmas Mass.  On the altar of the church he placed a manger filled with straw and brought in an ox and a donkey and other animals that the worshippers could see and sense first hand what it might have been like the night that Jesus was born.  This practice became popular throughout Europe in the ensuing years and soon every church began putting up nativity scenes which eventually were mass-produced in small scale for use in home celebrations of Christmas.  As you look at your nativity this Christmas, I hope you’ll remember that its inspiration was the result of an aspiration: to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation (Mk.16:15).”

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