Our Church is almost ready for the celebration of Christmas. Over this week a number of volunteers came and set up both the Christmas tree and the Crib. I hope that most of you have either of these two Christmas decorations at home and that many more have got them both. The Christmas tree and the Crib, coming from different traditions both point to the reality we are about to celebrate.
The tradition of the Christmas tree originated in Germany thanks to an English missionary bishop, St Boniface. From his missionary travels, Boniface knew that in winter the inhabitants of the village of Geismar gathered around a huge old oak tree (known as the “Thunder Oak”) dedicated to the god Thor. This annual event of worship centred on sacrificing a human, usually a small child, to the pagan god. Boniface desired to convert the village by destroying the Thunder Oak, which the pagans had previously boasted the God of Boniface could not destroy, so he gathered a few companions and journeyed to Geismar. They reached the outskirts of the village on Christmas Eve. Boniface approached the pagan gathering as the sacrifice was about to take place and he said, “Here is the Thunder Oak; and here the cross of Christ which shall break the hammer of the false god Thor.” Boniface grabbed an axe and chopped down the Thunder Oak of mighty Thor. Thus Christ was to become the only sacred tree.
Three centuries later on Christmas eve 1223 in Italy, St Francis of Assisi created the first Christmas crib. He was astounded by the humility of Christ and wanted to pass on to his followers that sense of awe and wonder. At a small town called Greccio, he asked a man named John to prepare a manger, with hay, an ox and an ass. Then Francis came with his brothers and the local people to celebrate Christmas with great rejoicing, and Francis sang the gospel and preached powerfully ‘on the nativity of the poor King’ while different people played the parts of the different characters of the story.
As we gather around the Crib or the tree at home or here in our parish, let us remember that it is Jesus we celebrate, Jesus we come to adore.