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Pope Francis: The Nativity is an example of ‘joy’ and ‘amazement’

Pope Francis speaks at his general audience Dec. 20, 2023, at Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. / Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN

Rome Newsroom, Dec 20, 2023 / 11:25 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Wednesday spoke during his last general audience before Christmas on the importance of approaching the coming of Christ with “joy” and “amazement,” noting that the first Nativity scene established by St. Francis of Assisi provides an important example for Catholics today. 

The pope opened by noting that this year marks the 800th anniversary of the first living Nativity established by St. Francis in the central Italian town of Greccio. 

“[St.] Francis doesn’t desire to create a beautiful work of art,” the pope said, “but through the Nativity scene to provoke amazement at the extreme humility of the Lord, at the hardships he suffered, for love of us, in the poor grotto of Bethlehem.”

Pope Francis uses a cane to enter Paul VI Hall at the Vatican for his general audience Dec. 20, 2023. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN

The pope emphasized that the very essence of the Christmas season cannot be reduced to a mere historical moment or viewed as “a beautiful thing,” adding: “We need this religious attitude of amazement.” 

“If I, in the face of the mysteries, do not come to this amazement, my faith is simply superficial,” the pope said.

The Holy Father also reflected that the Nativity scene of St. Francis was conceived by a spirit of “sobriety” and that in this way it can be seen as a repudiation of the rampant consumerism that has come to define the Christmas season for many families.

Pope Francis meditates on the Nativity scene in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican at his general audience Dec. 20, 2023. Credit: Vatican Media

“The risk of losing sight of what counts in life is great and paradoxically increases precisely at Christmas — the mentality of Christmas is changed — immersed in a consumerism that corrodes its meaning. The consumerism of Christmas,” Francis said.

The pope noted that it is “fine” to give presents but admonished against the “frenzy to go shopping that draws attention elsewhere … there is not that sobriety of Christmas.”

“Let us look at the crib: that awe before the crib. Sometimes there is no inner space for astonishment, but only to organize the parties, to have the parties.”

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at his general audience Dec. 20, 2023, in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN

The Holy Father emphasized that “the Nativity scene was created to bring us back to what matters: to God who comes to dwell among us.” It “helps us understand what matters and also the social relationships of Jesus in that moment, the family, Joseph and Mary, and loved ones, the shepherds,” he said.

“People before things. And often we put things ahead of people. This doesn’t work,” Francis added. 

The Holy Father closed this anticipatory reflection on Christmas by noting that aside from the sense of “amazement” that the Nativity instills, it also provides feelings of joy. 

Pope Francis gives a blessing at his general audience Dec. 20, 2023, at Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Elizabeth Alva/EWTN

Asking “where did this Christmas joy come from?” the pope answered: “Certainly not from having brought home presents or having experienced lavish celebrations.” 

“No, it was the joy that overflows from the heart when one tangibly touches the nearness of Jesus, the tenderness of God, who does not leave us alone but consoles us.”

“Closeness, tenderness, and compassion — such are the three attitudes of God.”

Pope Francis greets pilgrims during his general audience Dec. 20, 2023, in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

At the end of the general audience the pope repeated his refrain that war is always “a defeat,” adding “only the weapons manufacturers earn. ”

“And let’s think about children at war, the things they see. Let’s go to the Nativity scene and ask Jesus for peace. He is the prince of peace,” Francis continued. 

Pope Francis greets pilgrims during his general audience Dec. 20, 2023, in Paul VI Hall at the Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media

The Holy Father closed the general audience by appealing to the victims of a devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake that hit the northwestern region of Gansu and Qinghai in China on Monday, leaving an estimated 131 dead. 

“I am close with affection and prayer to the suffering populations. I encourage the rescue services and I invoke the blessing of the Almighty upon everyone, to bring comfort and relief in pain,” the pope said. 

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