Christ in the crib
The incarnation, the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem as a helpless baby, was a source of great joy to Francis. He was astounded that God was so humble that he came from heaven to live on earth, sharing the life of the creation, becoming our brother. He wrote:
‘O how holy and how loving, gratifying, humbling, peace-giving, sweet, worthy of love, and above all things, desirable: to have such a Brother and such a Son, our Lord Jesus Christ …’ (First Version of the Letter to the Faithful, 1:13)
Francis wanted to make this self-giving of God vivid and real, and so he created the first Christmas crib. At a small town called Greccio, in December 1223, he asked a man named John to prepare a manger, with hay, an ox and an ass. Then Francis came with his brothers and the local people to celebrate Christmas with great rejoicing, and Francis sang the gospel and preached powerfully ‘on the nativity of the poor King’.
(left) Christ in the Crib (Greccio)
But as with creation, his was not a sentimental attitude. Francis and Clare never forgot that the incarnation was costly. Francis focussed in his reflections on the self-emptying of Christ in obedience to the Father, and so saw Christ in the crib as an icon of obedience and humility. For him a key passage was Philippians 2:5 – 8.
Clare focussed on the generosity and poverty of Christ; how he gave up all that he had, and came to be part of a poor family, vulnerable to the vagaries of politics and economics. For her a key biblical passage was 2 Corinthians 8:9.
The desire to be like Christ in his poverty is a large part of the motivation behind the Franciscan emphasis on poverty. It is not about a hatred of the material, or a glorification of deprivation, but stems from a desire to draw closer to Christ, and to follow in his footsteps.
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Link to Franciscan articles (opens new window – PDF format):