The First Nativity Scene
Nativity scenes on the Logue family mantel.
Yesterday's post on the Nativity Scene in The White House got me thinking about Nativity scenes in general. We have several out at home now reflecting various cultures.
The first Nativity Scene was a live Nativity Francis of Assisi staged in Greccio, Italy in 1223. Francis was greatly influenced in his own life by direct experiences including that of taking on a beggars clothes and begging and later hugging a leper. Knowing the value of the senses, Francis received Pope Honarius III's blessing to use a cave near Greccio to stage a recreation of Jesus' birth. Living nativities spread rapidly and within a couple of generations were expected fixtures in virtually every church in Italy and were spreading further. In time, displays of the scene in statuary form also became common.
Today, the small chrèches on my mantel are a tame form of art compared with the more visceral experience Brother Francis had in mind. His display with lively animals and a live infant, all with their unpredictable nature and predictable smells was more sensory rich. Francis wanted us to live our way into the story so that our imaginations would be caught up in the amazing idea that the King of all Creation would enter into that creation not in power and might, but in vulnerability and love. Smelling the animals, while seeing a real, fragile child lying in a feed box accomplished something in the sense of those present that is missed in most Nativity Scenes, including the ones in my house and in The White House.
Francis is still on to something. If we could enter more fully into the messy reality of that first Nativity, we would stand in awe of the creator who came among us in weakness.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor