Bishop Mark’s Christmas Message

The Beauty of the Crib

In a small mountain village just north of Rome, called Greccio, there is a unique museum. It contains the largest number of cribs you will ever see in one place. These crib scenes range from the grandest, in all their intricate detail, to the smallest and most simple. They come from all over the world. But at the heart of each one is the infant Jesus lying in a manger in a humble stable, with Mary and Joseph at his side, gazing lovingly and in wonderment at this child.

It is a little-known fact that it was St Francis of Assisi who created the first crib scene in the village of Greccio in 1223. St Francis wanted the local poor people to know something of the miracle of this day. So he asked a local carpenter to build a simple manger, put some straw in it and some models of local animals – an ox, a donkey and some sheep. St Francis’ first crib had no human figures, because Francis wanted the people who gathered there to be the shepherds, the kings, Mary and Joseph, who would greet Jesus, the new born King, on Christmas Day.

The beauty of the crib is that it draws us all into the wonder of Christmas. God breaks into our world with great love and with great humility in the infant Jesus. God does this, in order to be one with us, so that we, in turn, may become one with Him. There is no place too poor or too humble where God cannot make Himself known. There is no life too damaged or broken, which He cannot touch. The vulnerable infant Jesus teaches us this. Our God makes Himself weakest of all, so that we can fall in love with Him. May we – like that first group of poor people who gathered in Greccio – be the shepherds and kings, Mary and Joseph, to receive the new-born child, and give Him a home.

This Christmas, I pray that each of us may know more deeply God’s boundless love. May Jesus touch our hearts and fill our lives with His gifts. May God bless you and all whom you love. Happy Christmas!

+ Mark O’Toole
Bishop of Plymouth



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