Three sheep rest in a live nativityEvery year I unwrap beautiful statuettes of very poor people hovering around an animal trough full of hay. This year will be no different. The manger scene is prominently remembered here at St. Francis Seraph Church and Friary, with various cultures represented as these very poor people struggling for warmth around a newborn baby. The outside courtyard scene, with its live sheep, goats, donkeys, gives the opportunity to smell the hay (and the rancid smell of urine and excrement), to feel the cold, to notice the plastic statues of the Holy Family, which do not shiver.

But just a short walk outside the courtyard in our neighborhood, we see the poor Christ shaking against the cold. He nightly huddles under blankets and garbage bags in doorways hoping he can catch a few winks. During winter, the church doors are open during the day for women and men to sleep in the pews. There is a safe restroom available there. And while there are homeless shelters here, some prefer the “safety” of a night doorway.

Baby Jesus in manger with Mary

Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

As I unwrap the tiny figurines, I think of this weary, waiting world. I think of the people of Ukraine struggling with the cold in cities without electricity. I think of desperate situations of hunger throughout the world. Then I think of the Christ being born into our condition. “Though He was in the form of God, He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped,” the song in Philippians reminds us. Max Lucado says that He went from commanding armies of angels to clutching Mary’s little finger. That always melts me. My soul feels its worth, to be so sought after by God. And I wonder how to give away the love that I am given.

That is the meaning of Christmas: that we might look down into the crib or look up on the cross and know deeply, how strongly God loves us. It’s the meaning of our small gifts to one another—that we want to love one another. And it can shift how we see those who struggle to just make it through one, cold night.

–Provincial Minister Mark Soehner, OFM