This day we celebrate that our Father sent his only son into the world. We commemorate that oftentimes with the nativity scene, because here, we get to see what happened 2000 years ago. Since I was a child, I always loved setting up the nativity scene and wrapping the lights around the Christmas tree, and just seeing the lights in the darkness. There’s something about it that always brought me such Peace, such Joy.
Every year the Vatican has a different nativity scene that they show in front of the Vatican. Has anyone seen this year’s? This year there is a man with a brown robe, that is also in the Vatican, Mary and Joseph and Jesus, not Jesus, but all the animals are there, and there’s a man with a brown robe. It’s St. Francis right there in the nativity scene. Why did they do that? Eight hundred years ago last night, on Christmas Eve, St. Francis did the first ever living nativity. He did the first nativity that there was eight hundred years ago. It was such a new thing that he went to the Pope to ask for permission. I don’t even do that. He went right to the Pope. He asked for permission to do this.
St. Francis, believe it or not, was a wonderful, joyful person, but he was not very organized. In his biographies they said that he was a little bit scatterbrained. I can relate to that. So, Francis got back to this town called Grecchio, where he was staying, and he had a little retreat house there. He just spent a couple years in the Holy Land. He went to Jerusalem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilea and Bethlehem, and he had such a profound experience of actually seeing that the place where Jesus was born, exists. I think sometimes in our world view, I promise you, if you ask people today, ask your relatives, ask your friends, ask them if they think Jesus actually existed, you might be surprised by the answer. We’re getting to a point where not everybody believes he was actually a human person. He was born in Bethlehem. I’ve been privileged enough to be there twice, to kneel right at the cave where he was born.
So, Francis was so excited to tell people about this that he was trying to figure out a way to convey what he experienced. He asked all the people if they would help him do this living nativity, and that evening, on Christmas evening, they did it right before Mass. He brought all the animals there and the people were there, Mary, Joseph, the kings, the shepherds. There wasn’t a baby Jesus yet, because it was right before Mass. He was waiting symbolically for that. During the nativity there was a miracle. When Francis looked down at the manger, in the crib where Jesus was supposed to be, He appeared to him, this little child. So, Francis picked up this child into his arms, and some of the people there could see this mystical experience that he had, holding the Baby Jesus. After that was over, he placed the Baby Jesus back into the manger, and He disappeared. Afterwards, people came, and they took straw from that area where Jesus was laying, and that straw then, wherever they took it, healed people, and it healed animals too. Francis had a big devotion to animals. So, it healed people and it healed animals.
Eight hundred years ago, now we celebrate this tradition. We have this beautiful manger here, probably most of us have a manger in our home, because we have such great devotion for what happened. Jesus really did exist. God sent his only son into the world. For thousands of years the people were in darkness. God was sending prophet after prophet after prophet trying to bring them to His will and show them His peace. Finally, since none of that worked, he decided, “I’m going to send my own son,” and Jesus was born in the flesh. Two thousand years ago they got to experience it.
Jesus wants to be with us today in the flesh, so after he suffered, died, and rose from the dead, he sent his Holy Spirit among us. He sent his Holy Spirit in such a way that we, his church, would become the Body of Christ. To all of us gathered here together today, just by being together, we are the Body of Christ. And a miracle happens at every Mass, just as Francis that the baby Jesus appeared to him right here at this Mass. When the bread and the wine are consecrated, Jesus is right here, body, blood, soul and divinity.
This year we’re celebrating the eucharistic revival where we’re hopefully increasing our devotion to the Eucharist. I invite you, if you’ve been away from the church or away from the sacraments, this is your time to come home. Maybe you doubt, maybe some people don’t believe that this is the real presence. On this Christmas Day ask God for that belief. Say, “Lord, help my unbelief. Help me to believe what is happening here,” because this is the greatest miracle. Jesus wants to be with us in the flesh. The father is sending his own son right here that we may experience him, just like two thousand years ago he was born as a baby.
When we experience him like Francis, we want to convey that to people in some way, so we go out into the world and we try to express what we just experienced, this miracle that happened here. Each and every one of us may do it in a different way. Francis did this nativity scene, but some of you may be better at art or music or just talking things out. Find a way to express the miracle that happens here. When Jesus appears, we are joined by all of the angels and the saints, and we’re surrounded by God’s glory. On this Christmas let us give thanks for the great miracle that Jesus once more is born on this altar.