The first Creche
Now I am not sure that this is all true, but there are enough letters and statements to make me believe it is close enough. Since there are other stories of Beloved Francis that are legends; why should I not believe this? This is the story as told to me of the first Creche.
In 1223 Beloved Francis was to be at the celebration of the Christmas Midnight Mass in a small mountainside village in Italy. Christmas was a difficult time for the common folk then. They were herded into cathedrals to watch the “holy” people receive the Mass. It was hard for St. Francis to watch the “holy” ones be impressed with themselves while having no mind for the common folk assembled. What could such an experience mean for them? Surely it told them nothing of God's love for them; or the sacrifice of a loving God becoming human in order to show humans the Way.
Christmas in this little village with a little chapel where most could not even get inside to witness the Midnight Mass was travesty that bothered Beloved Francis. He pondered in frustration on how could the people KNOW what he knew of the Nativity of the Babe of Bethlehem. Then the Holy Spirit “whispered in his ear”. He found a perfect cleft in the mountainside where he set up an altar, found a manger, and he gathered hay. It is said at this point that the good folk took up the work and following his lead began to help construct so that they could enact with animals and all the Birth of Jesus our Adonai.
I was told they ran and called to each other in excitement, women sang to each other as they created simple clothing of Bethlehem, and the mountainside was alive with folks running with torches and shouting in anticipation. An infant Jesus was fashioned with great love.
Something powerful happened that dark cold night under the stars as Beloved Francis read the Gospel and preached to the villagers gathered. There was spontaneous breaking out in hymns and chants. I was told that most people noticed a radiance they had never know in the area. Something so profound happened that people continued to run to see, and even the “high- holy” ones came outside with the rest of the villagers, and the cows, and the sheep, and the smells and the cold: and the Mass was brought to the people for the first time ever in that village. All were touched that night, and none remained unchanged. Soldiers gave up war, theives became monks, the rich became benefactors, and the holy ones gave their hearts of stone to God to exchange for hearts of Love.
How can we ever know what they experienced? How do we see the stars for the street lights? How can we feel the cold with our Orvis jackets and Frost Line hats? Where do we find Jesus among the shoppers, and will the Church leaders again bring the Mass to the people?
We are Franciscans. We will find a way where there is no way.