In preparing for Christmas in Italy, a family will assemble an intricate, detailed Nativity Scene called a presepe. This custom was started by our beloved St. Francis of Assisi on Christmas Eve in 1223. The presepe goes beyond a mere stable to include a landscape of the village and hillsides. In addition to Mary, Joseph, assorted shepherds and wise kings who have often arrived too early, are villagers going about their daily chores. The ordinary life of ordinary people is depicted. What is not immediately part of the display is the Christ child. In true Catholic tradition, the baby Jesus does not arrive until his appointed time at Christmas.
One tradition is to hide the babe somewhere in the village. Viewers are tasked with trying to find him, a subtle reminder that Jesus can be anywhere, even in the mundane and prosaic. The presepe is also a remembrance that our Lord was born without pomp. The greatest thing to happen to the human race occurred quietly one night. The next day, all but a handful of people went about their daily life with no change. Men and women labored. Children played. No one knew that the Son of God was in their midst and the world was going to change.
The Son of God is still in our midst. Men and women still labor. Children still play. Now we celebrate each year. As we search the presepe for the Christ child we also slow down and search the world for him. He is present in the people we encounter and the tasks we complete. Like a snowfall, Jesus brings beauty and unexpected joy. He softens the harshness of our lives. He connects us to others. Everything is the same but so much better. He comes during the darkest time of the year and brings us hope and light.
If we still our minds and hearts, if we step back from the hustle, if we just pause and breathe, we will find him quietly beckoning to us, inviting us in.
Merridith Frediani loves words and is delighted by good sentences. She also loves Lake Michigan, dahlias, the first sip of hot coffee in the morning, millennials, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three kids. She writes for Catholic Mom, Diocesan.com, and her local Catholic Herald. Her first book Draw Close to Jesus: A Woman’s Guide to Adoration is available at Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon. You can learn more at merridithfrediani.com.
Feature Image Credit: Il ragazzo, https://www.cathopic.com/photo/9308-duerme-jesus-aurora-ya-llega-belen