Pope Francis kicks off Advent with Apostolic Letter on Christmas nativity scenes

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Pope Francis kicks off Advent with Apostolic Letter on Christmas nativity scenes

The Holy Father has written an Apostolic Letter on Christmas nativity scenes, which were a brainchild of his name-patron St Francis of Assisi.

Entitled Admirabile signum (‘The enchanting image’), the letter was signed by Pope Francis on December 1 during a visit to the town of Greccio, the site in Italy where St Francis created the first nativity scene in the thirteenth century.

In the letter, the Holy Father said he wanted to encourage the family tradition of setting up a nativity scene before Christmas, as well as having them present in schools, prisons, hospitals, public areas and the workplace.

“It is my hope that this custom will never be lost and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived,” the Pope said.

“Why does the Christmas crèche arouse such wonder and move us so deeply?

“First, because it shows God’s tender love: the Creator of the universe lowered himself to take up our littleness. The gift of life, in all its mystery, becomes all the more wondrous as we realise that the Son of Mary is the source and sustenance of all life.”

In the letter, Pope Francis described the significance of the various figures and aspects of a typical nativity scene.

“The angels and the guiding star are a sign that we too are called to set out for the cave and to worship the Lord,” he said.

“Jesus, ‘gentle and humble of heart’ (Mt 11:29), was born in poverty and led a simple life in order to teach us to recognise what is essential and to act accordingly. The nativity scene clearly teaches us that we cannot let ourselves be fooled by wealth and the fleeting promises of happiness.”

He describes Mary as “a mother who contemplates her child and shows him to every visitor”.

“In her, we see the Mother of God who does not keep her Son only to herself, but invites everyone to obey his word and to put it into practice.”

St Joseph, the Holy Father says, is shown protecting the baby Jesus and Mary.

“He is the guardian who tirelessly protects his family … Joseph treasured in his heart the great mystery surrounding Jesus and Mary his spouse; as a just man he entrusted himself always to God’s will and put it into practice.”

When the figure of Jesus is placed in the nativity, the scene “comes alive”, the Pope said.

“It seems impossible, yet it is true: in Jesus, God was a child, and in this way he wished to reveal the greatness of his love: by smiling and opening his arms to all,” he said.

“The nativity scene shows God as he came into our world, but it also makes us reflect on how our life is part of God’s own life. It invites us to become his disciples if we want to attain ultimate meaning in life.”