This is the 800th anniversary of the first Nativity Scene. In 1223, St Francis of Assisi was just back from the Holy Land. The experience had so moved him that he wanted to replicate it for others. He brought Bethlehem to the people. So, he made three friars get the local townsfolk together, some animals, and enough hay to keep them contented - the animals, not the friars! Then, before the display, St Francis preached of the holy couple and the divine humility.
Here at St Dominic’s, our Nativity Scene’s figures are always arranged in a semi-circle. They’re always inviting the viewer to complete the tableau themselves. And so it is: every Christmas, everyone who visits the Nativity Scene becomes a member of the Holy Family.
The Holy Family is the kind of family which can always receive another member. Its mother was asked to have a holy Child. Her spouse was asked to be father to another, heavenly Father’s Son. The Child was asked to accept mortal parents. With how unusual and unusually graced this family is, its members are quite used to the eternal Father inserting other people into it.
We become members of the Holy Family when we love, care, and protect the vulnerable as St Joseph did, when we joyfully and trustingly accept God’s will as the Blessed Virgin did, and when we live peaceably with others as Christ did. Indeed, we want to be part of the Holy Family, because no family is like theirs. Would that everyone grew up in a peaceful, loving, uncomplicated, sanctified home.
There are so many families which need special love from Bethlehem; some are even in Bethlehem: we’re witnessing the horrible events in the Holy Land. Others are close to home; others are home. All families need holiness, love, and grace.
Here in Australia, we know the trauma that war induces. We know too much about the dysfunction and breakdown which wars introduce to those who live through them. Three of my grandparents went to the Second World War, which means all four were affected by it; there are knock-on effects in my parents’ and my own generation.
But “a world at war” isn’t part of my generation’s story, even if we are living with the consequences of one. So many of my peers simply cannot account for why they haven’t found happiness in a marriage and family. There are reasons for this which our short memories cannot account for.
All this is going to make us pray the more earnestly for peace. This peace doesn’t just mean no-more-fighting. Peace also means no anxiety, depression, or culture of fear. Peace means no substance abuse to get through the day. Peace means affective maturity and co-responsibility. Peace means healthy relationships.
However many sad chapters there are in a personal story, the Holy Family is ready to receive us all. We can complete the tableau of grace and goodness ourselves by joining them in their virtue. We shall ask the holy Child to bless our families, and his holy parents to be all we need at this time.
Fr Paul Rowse, OP Parish Priest