Christmas nativity scenes are a “domestic Gospel,” which helps to make the Holy Family present in one’s home, Pope Francis has said.
He also encouraged every family to have one in their home at Christmas time.
During his last general audience of 2019, Francis said that gazing at the nativity, with the baby Jesus, Virgin Mary, and St Joseph “we can imagine the thoughts they had while the Child was born in poverty: joy but also shock.”
“And we can also invite the Holy Family to our home, where there are joys and worries, where every day we wake up, get food and sleep close to our loved ones,” he said. “The nativity is a domestic Gospel.”
Pope Francis explained that the word ‘manger’ has the same meaning as trough, and Bethlehem means “house of bread.”
“The manger scene we make at home, where we share food and affections, reminds us that Jesus is the essential nourishment, the bread of life,” he said.
“It is He who feeds our love, it is He who gives our families the strength to continue on and to forgive each other.”
The pope quoted from his December 1 apostolic letter Admirabile signum, saying “the nativity, in fact, ‘is like a living Gospel,’” and urging everyone to have nativities at their homes, schools, workplaces, hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and town squares.
A nativity points to the essential: that God became man, he said.
He explained that “setting up a nativity scene is celebrating the closeness of God: God is always close to his people, but he was really close, very close, extremely close” at his birth at Christmas.
Noting that Christmas is just one week away, Francis also encouraged Catholics, in the midst of running around to complete the final preparations, to ask themselves: “How am I preparing for the birth of the celebration?”
Setting up a manger scene is “a simple but effective way to prepare,” he advised. “In today’s frenetic rhythms it is an invitation to contemplation. It reminds us of the importance of stopping.”
The pope also emphasized the tenderness of God as exhibited in a nativity; it shows God not as “distant lord or a detached judge,” he said, but as “humble Love, descended to us.”
He also recalled how some figures of the baby Jesus, called “Bambinelli” in Italian, have open arms, illustrating “that God has come to embrace our humanity.”
Speak to the Lord in the nativity scene, telling him about your cares and concerns, expectations, and the year which has passed, he urged.
“In everyday life we are no longer alone, He lives with us. It does not magically change things but, if we welcome Him, everything can change.”
“I hope for you then that setting up the manger scene is an opportunity to invite Jesus into your life,” he said. “When we make a nativity at home, it opens the door to Jesus. It makes this closeness concrete.”