The New Liturgical Year 2019/2020 began with the first Sunday of Advent. At the end of this month, we will celebrate New Year’s Eve and then, of course, New Year’s Day. The season of Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Ordinary Time and all the other annual feast days, mark our day-to-day lives with Christ and His Church. Every time we celebrate each season, we have an opportunity “to let the mystery of time become His-story of time.”
It is already the Second Sunday of Advent and Christmas and New Year will soon be upon us. The liturgy leads us to celebrate Jesus’ birth and to walk together towards the Lord and fulfil the words of Prophet Isaiah, “come, let us walk in Yahweh’s light,” (Isaiah 2:5). As Advent prepares us for the Nativity of Our Lord, we are reminded of the calling of all people, “Let us adore the Lord, the King who is to come,” (Invitatory Antiphon of Morning Prayer – Lauds).
Many homes, offices, hospitals and shopping malls excitedly set up Christmas trees, Christmas lights and decorations, but it is very hard to see people setting up nativity scenes. This custom has slowly faded off from our generation. Pope Francis has published an Apostolic Letter on 1 December 2019 (1st Sunday of Advent) entitled “Admirable Signum,” on the meaning and importance of the Nativity Scene. The Pope hopes this Letter encourages families to carry out this admirable tradition of preparing the nativity scene. He hopes “this custom will never be lost and that, wherever it has fallen into disuse, it can be rediscovered and revived.”
Our Church purchased two beautiful nativity sets (1 foot and 4 feet in height) in December 2014. The one-foot size nativity set is always displayed at the parish office whereas the 4-foot size nativity set is placed in the Christmas creche set up at the Church premises. As far I know, we are the only Church which has the 4-foot size nativity set in the whole of Peninsular Malaysia. Initially, we placed the Nativity scene at the sanctuary in our Church. However these past two years I placed them outside the Church because I noticed that many are only interested in taking photographs rather than spending time praying and adoring Baby Jesus in the manger.
I purchased this nativity set for the purpose of praying at the nativity scene and for evangelisation – “joyful proclamation of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God.” The Holy Father says that “the nativity scene is like a living Gospel, rising up from the pages of sacred Scripture.” Each time we gaze at the nativity scene and contemplate the Christmas story (the Infancy narrative), we are “drawn by the humility of the God who became man in order to encounter” us and “we come to realise that so great is his love for us that he became one of us, so that we in turn might become one with him.”
It is good to set up the crib in our homes, offices or churches, as the Pope says that “it helps us to re-live the history of what took place in Bethlehem” and “it touches our hearts and makes us enter into salvation history” in order to experience God’s love and to believe that God is with us and finally “we find true happiness.” As we “feel and touch” the simplicity, humility and poverty of Infant Jesus, we are invited to imitate him in our lives by showing mercy and compassion to those in greatest need (cf. MT 25:31-46).
As we gaze at the nativity scene this year, especially the figures of Mary and Joseph, let us respond to God as Mary responded with obedience, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). In this manner, we should submit ourselves in faith to the will of God and commit ourselves faithfully in spreading the Gospel. St Joseph has “entrusted himself always to God’s will” and stood next to Mary, “protecting the Child and His Mother.”
St. Francis of Assisi, who created the first crib scene in 1223 to commemorate the birth of Jesus, will pray for us so that we may open our hearts and pray with gratitude and thanksgiving.
“The Lord has made known to us” (LK 2:15).
Rev. Fr. George P.