It is said that St. Francis of Assisi was the first to set up a Christmas Crèche or Crib scene to remind us of the conditions that surrounded the birth of Jesus. The Crèche has become an indispensable part of our Catholic tradition and more important than any other Christmas symbol because it takes us back to the moment of the Incarnation.
Crèches can be exaggerated depictions of Jesus birth with elaborately costumed figures in wooden or stone buildings, sometimes quite extravagant. That is not the way that it was. Jesus was not born in a house or even a barn or sorts, he was born in a cave in the side of a rocky outcropping near the village of Bethlehem.
People still live in caves in Israel and Palestine, along with their cows and donkeys and probably dogs and cats. Most have feeding troughs for their stock. It is likely that it was in such a manger that the infant Jesus was placed.
I suspect that it was dark,dank, and a bit smelly. The kind of place most us would carefully avoid — a strange place indeed for God’s son to choose to enter the world to say the very least…a back door. Why would he not choose a comfortable home in Jerusalem or even Rome or Alexandria instead of a dank, dark and smelly cave?
Possibly the answer is that Jesus came to those who needed him most…the Anawim…the poor of Yahweh. The late scripture scholar Father Raymond Brown had this to say about the Anawin:
The word Anawim represents a plural from the Hebrew anaw which, along with its cognate ani is a word for ‘poor, humble, afflicted…Although this title [Anawim] meaning the ‘Poor Ones’ may have originally designated the physically poor (and frequently still included them), it came to refer more widely to those who could not trust in their own strength but had to rely in utter confidence upon God: the lowly, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the widows and the orphans. The opposite of the Anawim were not simply the rich, but the proud and self-sufficient who showed no need of God or His help.
As we celebrate Christmas (Christ’s Mass) this year, let us imitate Jesus. Go to the Anawim, seek out those whose situation is such that they have only God to rely on. Let us reach out with our hands and hearts and treasure to the lowly, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the widows, the orphans, the immigrants and the marginalized.
Don’t go to take Jesus to the Anawim. Go to find Jesus there.
I pray that God our heavenly Father will bless each of you with the joy and peace of Christmas and that your Catholic faith continue to bring you strength and comfort. Merry Christmas!
Image Credit: William Beem on Flickr
This post is also available in/Esta entrada también está disponible en: Spanish