Emmanuel is one of the most profound titles of Jesus. The Hebrew word means God is with us. When St. Francis of Assisi set up the first Nativity scene, he wanted to show simple, uneducated people that God chose to come down from heaven and be like us in all things but sin.
Following in the footsteps of St. Francis, people all over the world bring out their own nativity sets each year, but for many, the little scene is just another Christmas decoration, its real meaning obscured amongst all the other decorations.
The Italians have turned nativities into an art form. There are competitions and pilgrimages. Whole books are dedicated to creating the perfect nativity. The scenes can be either simple or over-the-top.
I wanted to give you an idea of just how amazing they could be, so I chose the picture above to do just that. Not especially interested in replicating the scene in Bethlehem, the artist instead focused on the manifestation of Emmanuel, God with us.
That’s why the surroundings would be familiar to the viewers. Isn’t that the Roman ruins in the field down the road? Hey, that looks like my neighbor’s house! These grand nativities, or presepe as they are known in Italian, are some of my all time favorites. Some years back, I tried to set one up a large scene in my house, but it took up so much space, I had to take it down 🙁
Nonetheless, over the years I’ve collected quite a few nativities. One of my favorite images is this one, a simple image painted by Fra Angelico for a monk’s cell in Florence, Italy.
Only about six inches tall, it fits easily on a shelf or wherever I decide to put it this year. It brings a smile to my face every time I pass it. In fact, it’s one of my most precious reminders of my many trips to Italy.
Friends, we are so blessed to know Jesus as Emmanuel. For those who have a nativity at home, remember this title when you pass by your nativity scene, be it large or small. If you don’t have a nativity scene, pick one up this year, even if it’s just an inexpensive one. You might even find one at your local thrift store. 🙂