Advent and the Nativity

Follow the pope’s lead and create a Christmas crèche

It’s been a long-held belief that commercialism has crossed the line into the religious realm, especially during the Christmas season. One only needs to flip on a television to see how the beloved St. Nicholas has morphed into a jolly old man in red peddling the newest Mercedes Benz.

The most recent line-crossing of secular into sacred is the Baby Yoda of Star Wars fame. With the release of “The Mandalorian,” the latest Star Wars creation airing on the new Disney+ video on-demand streaming service, Baby Yoda is becoming an internet star. Now Baby Yoda is being featured in Nativity memes in place of the Baby Jesus. (Memes are defined by Merriam-Webster as “an amusing or interesting item such as a captioned picture or video … that is spread widely online especially through social media.”)

While it’s all fun and games for Star Wars fans (other Star Wars characters have been featured in crèche depictions), it erodes the sanctity of what we Christians hold dear. It has also generated comments on the popular Reddit website, such as “Baby Yoda is bigger than Jesus Christ.”

So what can we do to defend the Nativity story of Jesus’ birth? Well, Pope Francis has some suggestions.

(Cartoon by Joe Heller | For The Compass)

On Dec. 1, the first Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis released an apostolic letter titled, “Admirabile Signum” (“Enchanting Image”). In his letter, subtitled “On the Meaning and Importance of the Nativity Scene,” the pope encourages families to take back the tradition of displaying a Christmas crèche in their homes.

“Dear brothers and sisters, the Christmas crèche is part of the precious, yet demanding process of passing on the faith,” Pope Francis says. The crèche “teaches us to contemplate Jesus, to experience God’s love for us, to feel and believe that God is with us and that we are with him, his children…”

The letter from Pope Francis is about 3,100 words in length, and packs a lot of suggestions for families wanting to set up a crèche in their home. It’s also an educational tool, one that offers background on the church’s teachings on the Nativity, and gives a history of the first Christmas crèche dating back to St. Francis of Assisi in 1223.

“The Nativity scene is like a living Gospel rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture,” says Pope Francis. “As we contemplate the Christmas story, we are invited to set out on a spiritual journey.”

Another important lesson in the Nativity scene, says Pope Francis, is that it reminds us of our responsibility to spread the Gospel. “Each of us is called to bear glad tidings to all, testifying by our practical works of mercy to the joy of knowing Jesus and his love,” says Francis.

The pope’s apostolic letter can be found on the Vatican website.

The Compass also chose the Nativity as its theme for an Advent video series this year. This five-part series features members of the diocesan Curia offering reflections on different parts of the Nativity scene: the stable and manger, the animals, the shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and, of course, the Christ Child.

The series began last weekend with Franciscan Sr. Laura Zelten describing the first Christmas crèche by St. Francis at Greccio, Italy. The work of numerous people went into making this series a great Advent feature, especially the work of Patricia Kasten and Matthew Livingstone.

This Advent, let the force (the Holy Spirit) be with us as we regain the sacredness of the season and embrace the meaning and beauty of the Nativity in our homes.