A few decades ago, as the commercialism of Christmas continued to grow, the phrase “put Christ back in Christmas” became popular. Back then I thought this was a very modern problem—not so! St. Francis of Assisi in 1223, inspired by his recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land, created the first nativity scene using live people and animals, “to place the emphasis of Christmas upon the worship of Christ rather than upon secular materialism and gift giving.(Quote from Wikipedia)” This dramatized that the son of God really took human flesh, and did so in the most difficult of circumstances.
St. Francis’ message resonated with Christians throughout Europe, and soon manger scenes became quite popular. Today most of us have fond feelings for nativity scenes, even if they’re not with live animals. Because of these fond feelings, we can get upset if anyone jars us out of our “Christmas comfort.” Have you heard about what a Catholic church in Dedham, Massachusetts has just done in their nativity scene? They put the baby Jesus in a cage, and the magi behind a fence with a sign saying, “Deportation.”
Many of us might say this is a sacrilege, but I don’t think St. Francis would see it that way, nor do I believe that Pope Francis would. They would want us to look at Jesus’ birth in light of what is actually happening in the world today. The child Jesus and his family were immigrants or refugees who were forced to flee to Egypt. Recall that our Pope has at least three times gone to places where desperate refugees are concentrated, and made strong statements about how the world’s more prosperous nations treat migrants.