The Babe of Bethlehem

November 28, 2018 by Kathryn Kimball

Did you know that the nativity scene tradition began with St. Francis in 1223 in Greccio, Italy?

Having such a deep regard for the birth of Jesus, St. Francis wanted to hold a mass that would excite and embrace the people, helping them to understand the amazing gift of Jesus to the world. With that goal in mind, he had sought and received special permission from the Pope to hold the mass in a nearby cave. He brought in a feeding trough, an ox, an ass, and some hay to replicate the stable birthplace of Jesus. Shepherds were in the hills watching their flocks as the villagers descended into the valley, carrying lanterns to light the way to the cave. As St. Francis read the scripture story of the birth of Jesus, tears flooded his face and he was unable to speak the name of Jesus. Instead, he called him “the Babe of Bethlehem.”

Can you picture yourself among the villagers? Arriving amidst lantern light, you are standing at the manger, seeing an ox and ass, and smelling the sweet scent of hay. With your own eyes and ears you experience the birth of Jesus, the Savior born for you, the village, and the entire world. Can you hear the singing? Can you feel the joy?

St. Francis’s replication of the manger scene spread to other villages in Italy. Soon it was spreading to other countries. Because of this humble monk, the story of the birth of Jesus is retold around the world in various forms and cultures.

How would your tradition portray the story of the Babe of Bethlehem?

Kathryn Kimball is the Museum Collections Manager of The Upper Room’s Christian Art Museum. During the months of November­–January, the museum displays 160 nativity scenes, reflecting more than 40 cultures. Admission is free, and the museum hours are Monday–Friday, 8:00-4:30. 1908 Grand Ave. Nashville, TN. 615-340-7207.


Find out more about St. Francis and the first nativity scene in The Living Nativity, and explore how Christmas carols, Advent wreaths, and other traditions help to prepare our hearts for the birth of the Christ Child.

Follow URbooks on Instagram and post your favorite nativity scene using the hashtag #MyLivingNativity.

For personal growth or for a small-group study, dive deeper into the book through an e-course.



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