Preparing a Place for Jesus
As we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, let us remember to make a place for Jesus in our homes.
The Gospel passage of the Second Sunday in Advent always recalls the preaching of St. John the Baptist and his preparation of God’s people for the revelation of Jesus. This is a reminder that each of us is called to encounter Jesus and respond to him, just as much as the people of Israel two thousand years ago.
While the Church gives us many reminders in the liturgy about the coming of Jesus in history during the Advent and Christmas season, there are also many important traditions for families to use in the home. In our culture, Christmas is very much associated with extravagant decorations and displays of lights, both of which can promote celebration and be reminders of the importance of what we are celebrating, but at the center of them all is the crèche or nativity scene.
I strongly recommend that a nativity set be the center of household Christmas decorations, perhaps outside the house but certainly inside. It does not need to be large, expensive, or elaborate, but a crèche in any form has the character of a religious shrine in a way that purely decorative elements do not. Merely the placement and presence of it is an important occasion for teaching children about central truths of the Christian faith. Place a nativity set in a place of prominence, elevated if it is small, but in a place where young children can see it. Decorate it with care, even using garland and candles or lights and other elements common in seasonal decoration, adding tasteful elements that not only enhance the attractiveness but the solemnity of the scene.
It is the custom to set up the scene and place figures during the Advent season, but to reserve the infant Jesus and crib for unveiling on Christmas Eve in a family ceremony. The whole family should gather for placing the crib, the Gospel of Bethlehem (Luke 2) can be read, and the family can share in a simple prayer or singing Christmas hymns. It is at this moment that it is appropriate to wish one another a blessed and happy Christmas, because this marks a true beginning of the celebration of the holiday, making it clear that everything before in the month of December was preparation for welcoming Jesus. This simple family liturgy can be done before or after Mass on Christmas Eve, and another beautiful custom is to present your household figure of the infant Jesus to be blessed after Christmas Mass. If your extended family gathers, consider how this could be done with grandparents, cousins, and other family members participating. If you live alone, consider inviting neighbors and friends to participate in a celebration. These practices are simple yet powerfully center the celebration of Christmas around preparing a place for Jesus.