La Valle del primo presepe
The initiatives are included in the Eighth Franciscan Centenary, which from 2023 to 2026 celebrates the important events of the last part of St Francis’ life, bringing together the territories of the Sacred Valley of Rieti, La Verna and Assisi. In fact, the approval of the Rule of Fonte Colombo and the first crib of Greccio (2023), the imposition of the Stigmata (2024) the writing of the Canticle of the Creatures (2025) and the death of the Saint (2026) are remembered. A journey that sees the dioceses of Rieti, Arezzo and Assisi and all the Franciscan families together.
the hidden meaning of nativity scene
For centuries we have been accustomed to contemplate the nativity scene in our homes and churches. For many of us it is a sign linked to the intimate memories of childhood.
It allows us to realise something great that is found only in Christianity: the incarnation of the son of God. But how could Francesco create such a human and true sign, in front of which no one dared to object?
However, at the time, the image of God promoted by the church was not attuned to what is thought to happen in Bethlehem.
Even in the various protesting groups at the time, who wanted a more evangelical church, no one spread a face and a presence that was so human and divine at the same time.
Francesco managed to enter the mystery of the incarnation. He saw that God has chosen the path of nudity and not of omnipotence and has chosen to manifest and make himself close to humanity. In this way he surprised and reversed everyone’s expectations.
Who would have ever thought that the event of the incarnation could be represented in such a normal way as the birth of any other child?
The Son of God becomes incarnate and the world does not seem to notice it, everything goes on as before.
From here, looking at the Christ of the Gospels, that Francesco preaches, asks and lives humility; that is the reason he proposes poverty to his friars and asks them to live an humble life. Nobody who is Christian can ignore the syntony with the “style” of reincarnation.
We are in Greccio. Francesco comes to this lost small town, inhabited by poor and hungry people, because he wants to represent the birth of Jesus. It’s the Christmas of 1223, three years before his death. He exorting the innabitans and he organises a “ living nativity scene”, bringing an ox and a donkey too. The whole picture shows poverty and simplicity. Francesco had hard the spiritual lucidity to grasp ”the sign” in that birth, he sensed how incisive it was.
From then on, it will be easier for everyone to tune with the humanity of God. We don’t need to go to Bethlehem to discover how “human” our God is, so close to our real life. A simple and brilliant spiritual and theological change has begun. At the time of Francesco there was a God who commands and has to be feared and obeyed.
It is not difficult to imagine the tone of homilies, with the invite for the observant s to make penitence, to suffer, to expiate their own sins to calm God’anger that threatens all the man. Francesco himself when composes the “Cantico delle Creature”, starts using the common expressions : “highest”, “almighty”, but then he tunes with the Gospel of the birth and adds “ Good Lord”!
He must have caught the deformed image of a God thirsty for revenge, that overturns on the Son the punishment for a fault considered otherwise irreparabile. Guided by the Spirit, he will have warned that no one can ignore that if God is incarnated it was for love, that if we have been “redeemed” it was for the love of Christ for us sinners. Because God is love, gratuitousness and proximity to all the victims of the evil. Maybe we can say that, as Jesus from Nazareth, rather than looking at the sin, Francesco is concentrated on the victims of the evil. Actually, this is how we can see the real face of God.
It’s not difficult to understand the message of Greccio . In a Church in which there was no more space for the poverty together with the preaching of the Gospel, Francesco has the cleverness and the courage to propose Jesus born in Bethlehem, in order to open to everyone, in particular to the poorest ones, the access to the face of God.
Francesco understood that a rich and powerful Church couldn’t announce the Gospel. It was extremely necessary to trust that strong, innocent and human image of Nativity Scene, the only one which could speak to everybody’s hearth, letting the possibility of conversion. In that humble Nativity Scene there is nothing aesthetically pleasing, there is the revelation of the great Christian announcement. It’s a big mystery, that always goes beyond us.
Who could ever imagine that God would have taken the social condition of a poor man? Nobody could predict that a poor man would have saved the world! Francesco realizes that our need of power and success, so often alienating and deceiving, can cure, turning into solidarity: giving ourselves to the others.
Francesco encourages the sick Church of the time to accept the message of Bethlehem, without resentment, for love.
From Greccio, Francesco tells us and the Church that we are called to be humble, always open to love the world.