“The crib is a school of life where we can learn the secret of true joy. This does not consist in having so many things, but in feeling loved by the Lord, and becoming a gift for others and loving one another. Let us look at the Nativity Scene; the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph do not seem like a very lucky family, they had their first child in the midst of great hardship, and yet are filled with deep joy, because they love each other, help each other and, above all, are certain that in their history God is at work, present in the Infant Jesus. And the shepherds? What reason would they have to rejoice? That baby will not change their condition of poverty and marginalization. But faith helps them to recognize in the ‘infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger’, the ‘sign’ of the fulfillment of the promises of God for all men ‘whom he loves’, (Luke 2:12-14), even for them!”

That is what our Holy Father told the crowd gathered before him in St. Peter’s Square this past Sunday during his Angeles address. There are two fascinating aspects to this quote. The first is that Pope Benedict XVI refers to the crib as a school of life. It isn’t just a romantic symbol; it’s a source of education. There are more lessons that can be learned from the crib than I can delineate in a single blog entry. The second fascinating aspect of this quote is the Holy Father’s reference to the crib as the place where we can learn the secret of true joy. Without true joy, our lives will become nothing more than a senseless conglomeration of happening after happening with no meaningful beginning or end.

This strikes an even deeper chord in me as I scan the news and see more and more often efforts to ban nativity scenes from public places. Momentum is gathering and it’s becoming more and more difficult for us to reverse it. Who knows how long it will be before Christmas will be completely void of religious symbolism?

There is one place however from which the symbols and figures of Christmas can never be banned: our hearts! With simple striving and loving dedication, we can form our hearts into a crib for our Lord Jesus. By acknowledging and tending to his presence there, we form a nativity scene within ourselves that is far beyond the reach of the anti-religion groups who threaten our faith and promise to destroy any visible evidence of it’s existence. They cannot, will not, ever destroy that which lies within our hearts.

By offering our hearts daily to our Lord Jesus as his crib, we will not only confound their initiatives, but we will succeed in multiplying the very thing that they are trying to destroy. For every one nativity scene they have managed to dismantle and ban in a public place, there can be 10,000, heart cribs taking its place. For every baby Jesus figure that’s ripped out of a manger scene, 20,000 more can be placed into the mangers is within us. The difference however, will be that in those tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions and billions of heart cribs will be the real and indestructible Lord Jesus himself. And that my friends, is the secret of true joy.

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