"Merry Christmas," Books & Culture e-mail, Tuesday, December 21, 2004
Keywords: Nativity, creche,
The Gospels give us the beloved story of Christ's birth, of course. But who started the tradition of placing crèches on the fireplace mantel or coffee table? When did churches start dramatizing Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem, or choirs begin singing the angels' praises in the "shepherds' fields?" For that we have to thank St. Francis of Assisi
The story goes that a woodcarver, embittered by his daughter's blindness, declared he would have nothing to do with a God "who condemns innocent children to darkness." He stopped going to church, and refused to make anything that would bring glory to God. But out of love for his girl, he consented to carve a doll for her as a Christmas present (even though he no longer had reason to celebrate).
Yet his wife continued to believe the gospel message, and when St. Francis came to town, she listened to him preach. She wondered at the friar's extraordinary peace and gentleness, yet no amount of pleading could convince her husband to go with her. Until Christmas Eve, that is, when she stole her husband's doll and took it to Francis, who had set upon the idea of creating a nativity but needed a baby Jesus.
The carver discovered the theft, and realizing what his wife had done, headed for the friar's church. But upon finding his wife, he stood transfixed, for around his carved doll the friar with animals gathered round, singing the ageless story of the birth of our Savior. And the carver's bitterness melted away. Francis approached him, gripping his shoulder. "You wondered if God could cure blindness? Well, we are watching him do it, are we not?"
This Christmas season, many of us have reason to not celebrate-to instead throw our pain in God's face and ask why we should be glad his Son came to earth. But Jesus understands our pain-he endured the greatest suffering any of us could ever imagine. And on this joyous morning, we invite you to walk into that stable, to hear the music of delighted angels, and join in the chorus, "Glory to God in the highest"