Click here if you don’t see subscription options
The Nativity scene and Christmas tree decorate St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 5, 2022. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Whether simple or elaborate, the same every year or constantly changing, a Nativity scene echoes “the beauty of our faith,” Pope Francis wrote.

Marking the 800th anniversary of St. Francis of Assisi putting together the first Christmas crèche in a cave in Greccio, Italy, the Vatican publishing house compiled texts by Pope Francis about Nativity scenes and asked him to write a special introduction.

A key message of the Nativity scene is that the mystery of Christmas “loves to hide within what is infinitely small,” the pope wrote in “Christmas at the Nativity,” which was released in English in the United States by New City Press.

A key message of the Nativity scene is that the mystery of Christmas “loves to hide within what is infinitely small,” the pope wrote in “Christmas at the Nativity.” 

“Awe and wonder are the two feelings that move everyone, young and old, before the Nativity scene, which is like a living Gospel overflowing from the pages of Holy Scripture,” he wrote.

The Italian edition of the book went on sale Nov. 21, just two days before the Vatican post office was to begin selling its 2023 Christmas stamps, which also celebrate the staging of a live Nativity scene in Greccio by St. Francis in 1223.

“The Incarnation of Jesus Christ remains the heart of God’s revelation, although it is easily forgotten that its unfolding is so unobtrusive, to the point of going unnoticed,” the pope wrote. “Littleness, in fact, is the way to encounter God.”

“Safeguarding the spirit of the Nativity scene becomes a healthy immersion in the presence of God manifested in the small, sometimes trivial and repetitive, everyday things,” he continued.

“The shepherds in the manger are those who welcome God’s surprise and live in wonder at their encounter with him, adoring him: in littleness they recognize the face of God,” he said. “Humanly we are all inclined to seek greatness, but it is a gift to know how to really find it: to know how to find greatness in that smallness that God so loves.”

On Christmas night, the angels lead the shepherds to a baby born in a manger—“not a sign of power, self-sufficiency or pride. No. The eternal God is reduced to a helpless, meek, humble human being. God lowered himself so that we could walk with him and so that he could stand beside us, not above and far from us.”

Pope Francis’ introduction to the book also included a special message to young people.

While the night sky is filled with an infinite number of stars, in the Christmas story “a special star stands out, the one that prompted the Magi to leave their homes and begin a journey, a journey that would lead them where they did not know.”

“It happens the same way in our lives,” the pope wrote. “At a certain moment some special ‘star’ invites us to make a decision, to make a choice, to begin a journey. We must forcefully ask God to show us that star that draws us toward something more than our habits, because that star will lead us to contemplate Jesus, that child who is born in Bethlehem and who wants our full happiness.”

Pope Francis also noted that the first Nativity scene in Greccio consisted of only a “crib with the hay, the ox and the donkey.”

“Before the Christmas scene, the people who flocked to the place manifested an unspeakable joy, never tasted before,” he said. “Then the priest, at the manger, solemnly celebrated the Eucharist, showing the link between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist. On that occasion, there were no figurines in Greccio: the Nativity scene was created and experienced by those who were present.”

The latest from america

A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent, by Father Terrance Klein
Terrance KleinNovember 29, 2023
Pope Francis joins others in holding a banner during an audience at the Vatican June 5, 2023, with the organizers of the Green & Blue Festival. The banner calls for financing a "loss and damage" fund that was agreed upon at the COP27 U.N. climate conference in 2022. The fund would seek to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
With COP28 in the United Arab Emirates imminent, opinion in the developed world on climate change has become deeply polarized. Perhaps exhausted by the digital news cycle, many people have developed compassion fatigue.
David StewartNovember 29, 2023
This 1994 article by Dennis Hamm, S.J., on praying the examen has become a resource in countless classrooms and retreat centers.
Dennis Hamm, SJNovember 29, 2023
Black survivors have been nearly invisible in the Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis — even in Baltimore, home to a historic Black Catholic community that plays an integral role in the nation’s oldest archdiocese.