There is an idea in Christian thought about the “thin veil,” that the presence of God is there before us, behind us, all around us – veiled by only the thinness of our attention. It has been that way since the Spirit of God hovered over the primordial waters and brought forth life. It continues unto our days and nights. There are times when the veil melts away and we sense God in our lives, in our dreams, and in the world around us. Certainly, St. Francis of Assisi understood the all-abiding presence of God in nature, in his brothers and sisters, and in so many ways.
St. Francis truly and deeply understood that the “thin veil” was pulled back when the one who is called Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace came into the world as a child – born to Mary and Joseph, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. Francis wanted the entire world to stop, pay attention and realize that the grace of God was living among us. He wanted us all to see the love of God and to join the angelic chorus: “Glory to God in the highest!”
So inspired, Francis created the crèche, that familiar image of the Holy Family with the infant Jesus at the center, surrounded by the animals with the Shepherds looking on, and the Wise men soon to arrive – all under the glow of the Star of Bethlehem. Francis created it in the little mountain village of Greccio to have the town’s people gather, pause and remember that day God came into the world to live among us. The most extraordinary thing arising from the most ordinary of circumstances.
The manger scene invites us to pause, rejoice in the moment, and realize that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son to live among and with us as one of us – to show just how much we are loved. That’s the Christmas message; pretty simple. We are loved.
True back when Quirinius was governor of Syria and the census took the Holy Family to Bethlehem. It was true when Francis celebrated Christmas in Greccio. It is true today in a world that can seem dark, difficult, and dangerous. We are loved – and not from afar – but up close and personal – all of us.
The message was not limited to a privileged few. The message is for all and just to make sure we got the point, the message of love come as a child came first to those who the world would see as particularly important or, for that matter, loved: no account shepherds, an unwed teenage mom, astrologers practicing a whole different religion. All of this to show that God’s message of love was for all. As in everyone, whether the world thinks you are important or lovable, whether you feel loved or lovable, whether you feel as though you are on the outside looking in, feel forgotten, or wonder what is the point of it all.
And that’s still the way it is; that is the “good news of great joy” that God loves all of us.
See the manger and remember. Look around at all the people gathered here with you – and remember.
It really is all very simple. You are loved.